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there at the time go into convulsions,” he said. That man was Jose Rodriguez, whose journey from Zacatecas didn’t turn out exactly as he had imagined. He was pouring phosdrin, a potent liquid, into jugs, and the fumes made him drop to the factory floor “like a chicken,” Rodriguez said. Briefly hospitalized, he didn’t return to work. Garza said the plant supervisor came out on such occasions and warned them to be careful. “How could you?” Garza asked. “You had to work with what you had.” The supervisor was Cyril Weber. Now 94, rail thin with a slight hunched back. A friendly and old-fashioned Nebraska native, he said in an interview at his home outside of Mission that Garza was “kind of a know-it-all” because he could actually understand directions. Others, Weber said sarcastically, could be told one minute to do something, and the next they’d be eating the poison by the spoonful. Weber’s short-term memory is poor, but his sense of history is rich. A machinist by trade, he said he built the “poison plant” in South Mission, which he estimated employed about 100 people during peak seasons. “Some jobs, they were ticklish jobs, they was awful dangerous,” Weber said. “We never was too careful about who we put in there. For a while there we didn’t know it was very dangerous.” Later on, management realized “some of that stuff was really hard on your liver.” Still, Weber is skeptical of the lawsuits, describing plaintiffs as opportunists claiming they were seriously injured. He was adamant that handling the product “like gold dust,” along with good hygiene and common sense, was sufficient, even though that didn’t always happen. “The only people who got injured by it were the people who were reckless,” he said. That included his young, adventuresome nephews who visited the plant one day, played in a lift, and ran around getting dirty. The next morning they were vomiting, he said. He speculated that they became ill because they didn’t bathe after visiting the plant. The plant operated in an agricultural boom time, and his boss, the late Clay Brazeal, always demanded bigger profits, Weber said. So Hayes-Sammons bought formulating plants and warehouses in Yazoo City, Mississippi, to be closer to cotton fields there, as well as in Raymondville, another Rio Grande Valley town. The company also built a facility across the border in Reynosa. “When he made a dime, he’d want to make 20 cents,” Weber said of Brazeal. “It was the way he was, like all the bankers. They are all the same breed.” Better safety measures, like kettle lids and a fence around the plant, could have been installed, he said, but such extras were unacceptable deductions from the bottom line. As a manager, Weber said he didn’t have constant contact with the materials and that some employees struggled to understand directions. He said one part of the operation he considered particularly careless was the handling of BHC, a suspected carcinogen that sometimes was trucked to the plant in uncovered dump trucks. It was typically piled on a concrete slab outside, where today the Mission Independent School District maintenance and operations offices are. He said “little eddies” of dust would form. On windy days, it blew off the site toward Pearson Elementary School a block and a half away. Mark Deckhard, now 48, ran around the property as a child. Early last spring, he took a break from playing catch in the street with three of his four kids to describe what it was like back then. He has lived in the same small house most of his life. A few years ago, a crew working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality dug out his entire front yard because it was contaminated. “We used to hide in the containers,” he said. “Nobody said, ‘Hey, don’t hide in that. It’s poison:” In recent years Deckhard, who can see part of the facility from his yard, said he was diagnosed with leukemia, which went into remission after chemotherapy. He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone about the risk to his children as they hugged and hung on him. “I know he’s going to get it,” Deckhard said of his son Forrest, 12, who stood beside him on the porch. “I am definitely going to get it, right Daddy?” the boy asked proudly. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 29, 2007