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
What disturbs her most is that three of her children were born with heart defects. Parental exposure to TCE has been linked to pediatric heart defects in a 1990 University of Arizona study.
"They told me not to worry about the TCE," says Jean Stratton. "They treated it like water." Another name in Springer's stenography pad belongs to Elizabeth Torres, who worked at different Motorola plants in Phoenix from 1968 to 1985.
Torres has vivid recollections of her days in the semiconductor factory at 52nd Street and McDowell. "I worked in a small room with four other women," she recalls. "I sprayed black wax on silicon wafers, and the wax clogged the vents. The ventilation was terrible. The girl before me did the aligning, and passed the wafer to me, I passed the wafer to another girl, who baked it in the oven. Another girl took it and dipped it in acid. The next one degreased it. "The girl before me, the one who did the aligning, got paralyzed. Two weeks later, she got better. They never knew what it was."
Torres says she was considered a troublemaker because she complained about working conditions. She suspects this is one reason she was sometimes assigned to work at Motorola's satellite plants, some of which hired a lot of minority workers. One such plant, she says, was a plating plant at 21st Street and Mohave in Phoenix, in the middle of a Hispanic barrio. She says the working conditions were less than safe, which she attributed to the large minority work force of "blacks, Indians and Mexicans." "It was the dirtiest place I've ever been," Elizabeth Torres says.
Another such plant, Torres says, was Solavolt, which was also owned by Motorola. Solavolt manufactured solar cells that generated electricity from solar power. Torres says she worked in a room where glasslike industrial furnaces were heated with toxic phosphene gas. In 1984, Torres says, one of the ovens exploded. She inhaled the fumes, passed out, and woke up in the hospital.
Her central nervous system damage is such that she suffers multiple seizures daily, she says.
Like Jean Stratton, Elizabeth Torres rarely leaves her house.
Dolores Springer's own health deteriorated, and she eventually discontinued her amateur epidemiologic study of workplace problems at Motorola.
When asked about Dolores Springer's allegations, Motorola spokesperson Moore responded that the company could not comment on former workers due to privacy laws.
@body:Tupac Enrique does not know Elizabeth Torres, Jean Stratton or Dolores Springer. But he has heard similar stories about the Motorola Mohave plant.
He has become sufficiently alarmed to launch an investigation of health effects on former workers in the Mohave plant, which was owned by Motorola from 1970 to 1982.
Enrique is particularly interested in this plant at 21st Street and Mohave because it happened to sit near a South Phoenix community called "Golden Gate Barrio." Most residents of Golden Gate Barrio were relocated by the City of Phoenix in the mid-1980s to make room for an industrial park, but the scattering of the residents does not deter Enrique from conducting his ongoing health investigation.
Enrique, co-director of the Maricopa County Organizing Project, which describes itself as an advocacy group for the "Mexicano-Chicano" community, says a disproportionate number of Hispanics work in low-paying jobs in the semiconductor industry. And live around the plants. This, says Enrique, is "environmental racism." Which does not sit well with Motorola.
"We used sound environmental practices at our Mohave facility," Motorola spokesperson Steinhoff says. "We emphatically deny any claims of environmental racism regarding workplace exposure at Motorola." The South Phoenix plant workers underwent "rigorous" safety training which was exactly the same as safety training for the 52nd Street plant, says Steinhoff. Literature on safety was always available to the South Phoenix workers, he says.
Motorola has always operated safe plants, says Steinhoff, and the Mohave plant was just as safe as the other plants.
But a 1980 state report filed by a worker complained of numerous safety violations. The worker, Barbara Semko, reported that cyanide fumes caused headaches and nausea among workers, and that cyanide solution caused burns on the hands and faces of workers, according to the report.
She claimed chemical and water tanks overflowed into the women's rest room and made the floors slippery in some parts of the plant. She also complained of the extreme heat workers had to endure while working in the rooms with the ovens.
Barbara Semko filed her complaint in September. In October, one month later, Arizona Industrial Commission investigators could find no violations at the Mohave plant.
But the complaint was not unusual. Of the 22 complaints filed from 1972 to 1992 with the Industrial Commission against various Motorola plants, 13 alleged unsafe workplace exposures to chemicals, particularly from faulty ventilation systems. Workers complained of headaches, dizziness and nausea in the reports. However, Motorola was only cited once for ventilation violations by the commission.
@body:Donald Netko has never acknowledged to New Times during various interviews that chemicals used by Motorola in the past may have been harmful to the health of workers or residents.
But he is enthusiastic about Motorola's "toxics reduction program"--a corporate effort to replace dangerous chemicals with safer chemicals and manufacturing processes.