By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
"I got to the point where if anybody said the words 'scientific study,' I was ready to shove my fist down their throat," he says. He is disappointed that the Brill Street study has been "put on the shelf." "These people don't trust the government," he says of his constituents in the Superfund sites. "I don't blame them and I'm in the doggone thing."
@body:Dolores Springer thought she'd landed a dream job when she hired on at the Motorola 52nd Street plant in 1980. Then 24, Dolores had never come across a job that paid $1,000 a month and had such good benefits.
She worked with silicon wafers. She says her employer did not tell her what the wafers were for. "I put little gold squares on wafers, one right after another," she says. "I have no idea what those wafers went into."
Springer says she was a fast worker. Recognizing this, her supervisor often sent her on errands to break the monotony of production work. In 1981, after Dolores had been on the job about a year, she says she and two other women were sent to a special unit to mix chemicals.
"The supervisor gave us paper shoes, paper gowns and rubber gloves," says Springer.
Springer recalls asking, "Why the gowns?"
"Just a precaution, that stuff could eat your clothes," is what Springer recalls the supervisor saying.
"She told us to mix one color bottle with another color bottle and she wrote down just how to mix it on a piece of paper." Then the supervisor sent the women into an "enclosed cubicle." The supervisor did not join the women, which bothered Springer at the time, and still bothers her today.
The next day, Springer says, "My face was puffy and swollen. I was so tired I couldn't get out of bed. I went to work too sick to even brush my hair."
But Springer could not work. Not that day or ever again. She was eventually diagnosed as having an autoimmune disorder that has since destroyed her muscles, leaving her permanently disabled. She fights to stay out of a wheelchair.
Springer does not know if the chemicals caused her disease. But in 1989, after reading about illnesses among workers in the semiconductor industry, she began to have suspicions. She learned that workers in the "clean" semiconductor production are exposed to hundreds of toxic chemicals thought to impact health, among them organic solvents like TCE, acids and toxic gases such as arsene and phosphene that fire up the ovens baking the chips. Among the illnesses, she learned, are diseases of the central nervous system (including the brain and spine), liver, kidney, and immune system, as well as minor symptoms such as headache, nausea, respiratory problems, fatigue, dizziness and eye and nose irritation. High-tech workers are also at risk for reproductive effects, like miscarriages, some scientists say.
The injuries are so frequent that electronics workers have four times the incidence of occupational disease of other workers, Joseph LaDou, a University of California doctor who tracks the health of high-tech workers, tells New Times.
Workers have reported so many illnesses, in fact, that the semiconductor industry itself in 1989 commissioned the University of California at Davis to study the health of its workers. The results of the study are to be released this December, says Kathy Garvey, a spokesperson for the university's medical sciences office of public affairs.
Motorola helped fund the study, but says it did not allow its workers to participate because of logistical problems. "The study would not have included all Motorola semiconductor products sector employees," says spokesperson Curtis Steinhoff. "Motorola was willing to have all of its employees participate in the study. However, this would have made the project too large."
"Motorola," Steinhoff adds, continues to "invest heavily in control technology and safety engineering in order to protect the safety, health and welfare of its employees and neighbors."
Motorola officials have frequently told New Times that safety of workers in the plants has always been of utmost importance.
This is not what Dolores Springer deduced during the few months she interviewed former and current Motorola workers, and duly recorded their stories on a small stenographer's pad. Springer was surprised to find one woman with a similar disease to hers. She was also surprised by the frequency of complaints of poor ventilation, and "fumes" that caused dizziness, headache and nausea.
A sample from Springer's notes: "Jean worked at Motorola in 1957, part of 1960 and 1961. Had ten miscarriages. White blisters on her hands. Persistent rash on hands, face, chest. Still gets these rashes. Suffers from kidney problems. One chemical that she used was 'trichloroethylene' they used it for everything. Especially for cleaning anything and everything. A bottle sat at all stations at all times. Supervisor told them one day it cleaned diamonds real good. So all the girls used it for that. One day she noticed her diamond was loose from the setting. Jeweler said the chemical ate the glue. When she returned to work the next day, she told all the girls not to use it and they stopped."
Today, Jean Stratton is permanently disabled with kidney, lung and autoimmune disorders.