Hazards of the Job

"Hazards of the Job?"
by Dick Mauer

In Buffalo Sector back in the late 70s we started to encounter large crews of illegal aliens from various countries engaged in asbestos removal. The crews we found here usually traveled up out of the New York City area and stayed in dive motels while working here. They traveled together in old vans and had an English speaking foreman and generally one of the crew also spoke English. I remember crews of Poles, Russians, various South Americans, and Chinese, and that all crew members were of the same nationality. This also was in the days when the dangers of removing asbestos fibers were largely unknown and what regulations that did exist were mostly ignored. The alien crews did not wear any breathing apparatus at all on the job and occasionally you would see someone with those small and useless paper masks over their mouth and nose. I also remember following their vans after seeing crews putting the asbestos material into the back of the vans they were traveling in and throw the stuff in dumpsters they found on the way to the motel. The crews were usually good for a few scratches and fortunately, (for us) the arrests took place either on a vehicle stop or at the motel. I'd like to think that we were too smart to be entering those partially demolished buildings, but the real reason we waited until the crews were in their vehicles was to avoid the inevitable foot chase. Within a few years the asbestos abatement regulations required hazmat suits and masks, but, before that, who knew.

I also think about unknowingly running through orchards and farm fields that had recently been sprayed and I particularly remember coming face to face with a worker on a spray tractor garbed head to toe with a full mask, and saying to myself "What am I doing here?" I had a child born in 1978 that had multiple and continuing health problems right up until his death in 2015. I have often wondered if he possibly paid the price for my inadvertent contact with agricultural and industrial chemicals.