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a squalid business tices American firms to open factories in Juarez. Says Mitchell: “We haven’t had any lawsuits due to industrial accidents. If a guy gets hurt in the plant, social security [workmen’s compensation] takes care of him. If he has to be off work, he’s in the hands of the governmentand you don’t sue the government. It just isn’t done over there.” A visit to the AMATEX worksite near the Nuevo Casas Grandes Highway in Juarez discloses the human consequences of the impunity AMATEX enjoys under Mexican law. The cinderblock building looks tidy enough from the outsideunlike its sister plant in Agua Prieta, where reporters for the Arizona Daily Star, accompanied by American industrial health specialist Dr. William Johnson, found asbestos waste drifting against a surrounding fence and spilling across an adjacent roadway in March of this year. But when the Juarez factory hands stream out of the plant at quitting time, they bear the tell-tale signs of hazardous conditions within. White filings, dust, and strands of asbestos fiber cling to their hair and clothing. One worker says the air inside is thick with asbestos dust and tells of stinging sensations on his skin and in his lungs, even though he uses the safety mask, gloves and uniform provided him. His bosses have told him little about the dangers of inhaling asbestos fiber since he started working there four years ago, he claims. Workers have recently been sent out for x-ray examinations, but they haven’t been told the outcome. Juarez newspaper stories about the asbestoscancer link scared some of his coworkers into giving up their jobs and he was frightened, too, he reports, but he couldn’t afford to forfeit his $5-a-day take-home pay. Mexican officials react to such information much as their American counterparts did seven or eight years ago. They alternately play down the dangers and affirm their resolve to correct any safety problems. Yet one government physician admits that AMATEX would not tell him the results of its own monitoring of dust levels in the factory. “Obviously they didn’t want to say anything,’! said Dr. Raul Caudelas of the .work medicine division at Juarez’S Seguro Social hospital. On the American side of the border, criticism of AMATEX is less s muted. Environmentalist Castleman describes the Pennsylvania company’s shift to Mexico as part of a pattern of corporate flight that has also emerged in other American industries using treacherous raw materials \(such as zinc and lead smelting, mercury mining, and the manufacture of pesticides, benzedine dyes, ticularly well-advanced in the asbestos textile industry, where the number of U.S.-based competitors has dropped from seven to three after just six years of tightening regulation. Castleman contends that migrating companies like AMATEX leave behind a no-win situation both for American workers, who may lose their jobs by pressing too hard for a healthier workplace, and for companies that incur a competitive disadvantage by staying put and complying with U.S. law. However, the AFL-CIO’s national health director, Sheldon Samuels, considers the loss of jobs trivial in the case of AMATEX. It is the threat of injury to Mexican workers that rouses his ire, and he directs most of it at the U.S. government, because hazardous. American shops in Mexico get the benefit of favorable tariff treatment for their exports to the U.S. as part of the Commerce Department’s contribution to Mexico’s border industrialization program. In his view, that makes . Washington an accomplice in the evasion of U.S. occupa tional health regulations by the likes of AMATEX. Says Samuels: “They’re bringing American technology, uncontrolled, to Mexico and operating with the full support of the U.S. Commerce Department, which is officially blind to the loss of Mexican life.” Samuels, Castleman and others have called for withdrawal of that support, but so far to no avail. They argue that tariff hikes alone would make it economically prohibitive for American companies to export health hazards to foreign countries, because the runaway shops typically go on producing almost exclusively for the American market. Samuels suggests other sanctions as well, including denial of trade preferences and of credit for foreign investment. Lending urgency to these pleas for federal action is the memory of what happened at Tyler because of the federal government’s reluctance to meddle in the operation of an American business: 25 of Pittsburgh-Coming’s East Texas employees are already dead, and 175 more are disabled and dying due in large measure to regulatory inertia. Unless the U.S. government can be swayed by such appeals to alter the policies that now make border-jumping profitable for hazardous American enterprises, the Tyler experience is destined to be repeated again and again. Only the sites will be south of the border, and the casualties will be impoverished Mexican workmen like the AMATEX employee who described to this reporter the cruel choice he felt compelled to make between his health and his livelihood. 0 Former Observer staff assistant Paul Sweeney is a reporter for the El Paso Times. THE TEXAS OBSERVER