Fred Mabry, United Steelworkers of America representative -u 0 to Spreading The News At their monthly union meeting in April 1980, workers at the tie plant heard for the first time that, despite the safety measures in force at the plant, their work could be destroying their health. Fred Mabry, a regional safety and health coordinator for the United Steelworkers of America, had been invited to address the group. Although Mabry had been trying to set up the engagement since December, only a handful, about 20 union members, came to hear him and another health specialist, John Templin, an industrial hygienist at the University of Houston’s Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations. At the American Legion hall, scattered about the auditorium on metal folding chairs, sat seven or eight blacks, a couple of Mexican-Americans, and the rest Anglos a misleading term for the 12 AUGUST 22, 1980 v!IN OPAg 4.0 nw 41%CA. t el!+ ,1,10…..4 ,4111.! *4’4’10 Thomas has outlived two wives and now rears two daughters, ages nine and seven, on his pension. Last year, he says, he was hospitalized when doctors discovered he had prostate cancer. “I’ve had 23 X-ray and radium treatments,” he says. Like Harper, Thomas wasn’t aware that creosote and coal tar products had been linked to cancer. Unlike Harper, however, Thomas seems willing to consider the hazards in retrospect. “I never did hear anyone say anything about [cancer],” he says. “When you were loading that lumber, the creosote would run off and ruin your clothes. I always tried to keep it off me, but naturally you’re going to get some of it on you.” Lloyd Powell was 61 years old when he died of lung cancer last year. He was a lifelong smoker. He also had one of the nastiest jobs at the tie plant, forcing him to inhale, along with tobacco smoke, copious amounts of creosote fumes. “He’d go to the back of the cylinders to hook up cables,” recalled one of Powell’s co-workers. “He held scraps of cloth and carpets over his face. This was quite a few years ago and I’m sure the fumes were worse because it was strong creosote. Now they put a lot of oil in it.” Powell’s widow, Mrs. Melba Powell, runs a tiny cafe in Somerville. “He always had to go down in the vat where they treated the ties to bring the trams out,” she says, taking a break from cooking and waiting on customers. Sitting there in the dimly-lit restaurant, her voice nearly drowned out by a television soap opera, she explains: “He never did get to use a mask. My husband was about the onliest one who went into the vats I guess because it was his job to do it. He’d been working the chain gang for 18 or 19 years. He never did complain much, even after he took sick.” people in this region of Texas, most of whom are of Eastern European and German stock. “I don’t know what kinds of problems you’re having,” said Mabry, “but I suspect that people who live here have high counts of cancer, birth defects and other things like stomach disorders. I will say this, though, you’ve got the best equipment in the country if you’ve got safe work practices and if it’s maintained properly.” Mabry represents 43,000 members of the steelworkers union in the region of Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. “Among those 43,000 workers, we probably have exposures to all of the known, and most of the suspected, occupational carcinogens,” he said. “We represent people in all industries, including those industries where they treat wood products. +: A “At a post-treating plant in Arkansas we found that 16 of 26 workers who died were dead of cancer,” Mabry went on. “Now, overall, the national levels show that one in four dies of cancer not one in two. And our folks died at a relatively young age compared to the rest of the state where they worked.” The workers were warned about coming in contact with creosote, pentachlorophenol, and the arsenic compounds in use at the Santa Fe plant. “If you take them home on your clothes,” he said, “it may affect your wife if she’s carrying a child.” After Mabry finished, Templin warned against working in hot, confined spaces and explained precautions that should be taken. He also discussed the use of re spiratory equipment, noting, for exam ple, that a protective device designed for n , t” , -,,S,,.
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