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INVESTIGATION RELATING TO HEALTH CONDITIONS OF WORKERS EMPLOYED IN THE CONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE OF PUBLIC UTILITIES
MONDAY, JANUARY 20, 1936
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON LABOR,
Washington, D. C. The subcommittee this day met at 10:45 a. m., Hon. Glenn Griswold presiding, for further consideration of House joint resolution to authorize the Secretary of Labor to appoint a board of inquiry to ascertain the facts relating to health conditions of workers employed in the construction and maintenance of public utilities.
Mr. GRISWOLD. The subcommittee will be in order. In conformity with instructions of the subcommittee, the chairman telegraphed to Dr. L. R. Harless, Gauley Bridge, W. Va., and Dr. Emery R. Hayhurst asking them to be present this morning. We have the following telegrams from these gentlemen:
GAULEY BRIDGE, W. VA.,
January 19, 1936. Hon. WILLIAM J. CONNERY, Jr., House of Representatives,
Washington, D. C.: Unable to appear before your committee on January 20 as per your request by wire. Letter explaining will follow.
L. R. HARLESS.
January 17, 1936. Hon. WILLIAM P. CONNERY, Jr., Committee on Labor, House of Representatives,
Washington, D. O.: Telegram received re House Resolution 449. What provision has the committee to bear expenses of witnesses and per-diem fees?
EMERY R. HAYHURST. Mr. GRISWOLD. Some of the victims of this tragedy have been supenaed and I understand that they are on their way here from one of the local hotels in a cab. Is that true, Mr. Marcantonio?
Mr. MARCANTONIO. That is right.
Mr. RANDOLPH. In connection with calling witnesses to appear before this committee, I should like to suggest to the Chair and to the other members of the committee that we call Dr. Finch, who is the director of the United States Bureau of Mines. He is in Washington and available when called. Dr. Finch has made a study of silicosis and diseases incident to drilling of mine tunnels and those sorts of things.
Also, I should like to have the subcommittee call Dr. R. R. Sayres, director of industrial hygiene for the United States Public Health Service.
Mr. GRISWOLD. I do not think there is any objection on the part of the committee to doing that.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. I should like to suggest to the subcommittee that the chairman request the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to furnish a copy of a report prepared by Mr. Leon Brower entitled "Stranded at Vanetta”, which report will bring to light the conditions found by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration around Gauley Bridge, W. Va., and the surrounding section of that country. This is an official Government report now on file with tho Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
Mr. GRISWOLD. The committee clerk will please request that information.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. That will, no doubt, give us a great deal of useful information.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. Yes; I believe it will.
Mr. GRISWOLD. I might suggest to the members of the committee that the subcommittee on appropriation for the Treasury Department, of the Committee on Appropriations, has considerable data fraom the United States Public Health Service concerning silicosis. That information is in the hearings concerning the Treasury Department appropriations.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. Again referring to the report by Mr. Brower, I have a letter from that gentleman dated January 14, last, in which he says, in part: "I am fairly conversant with that whole situation, having interviewed every person who could be approached. I was especially interested in the living conditions and the problems of the workers who remained on in West Virginia. Also, I followed the law cases. Should I be able to be of any assistance in your investigation I should be happy to help you.”
Mr. Brower is now with the Florida Emergency Relief Administration at Jacksonville, Fla. If agreeable to members of the subcommittee, I think we should invite Mr. Brower to come here.
Mr. GRISWOLD. Why not request the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to have him appear, so that we may not run against the proposition we have in connection with the doctor.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. It does not make any difference how he is invited—through the Relief Administration or directly.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. We should be certain that he will not lose his position.
Mr. GRISWOLD. Then there is the matter of paying his expenses.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. We ought to make a thorough investigation.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. I think we should ask through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration that he attend this hearing.
Mr. GRISWOLD. The subcommittee will now recess until the witnesses, now en route, arrive.
(Thereupon the subcommittee recessed until 11 a. m.)
STATEMENT OF MRS. CHARLES JONES
Mr. GRISWOLD. The first witness this morning is Mrs. Charles Jones. Mrs. Jones, will you please give your address to the reporter?
Mrs. JONES. I live at Gamoca, W. Va
Mr. GRISWOLD. Mrs. Jones, the committee has under investigation the silicosis situation at Gauley Bridge, W. Va. Will you tell the committee in your own words anything you know about the situation there?
Mrs. JONES. I lost my three sons, and my husband is in very bad condition as the result of working at the Hawk's Nest tunnel. One son was 23 years of age, the other son was 21 years of
age, and the other son was 18 years of age. My husband is not able to work. He has not been able to work for quite some time. He has silicosis, according to the doctor. We have been having a very hard time making a living since this trouble came to us. We have been living on $2 a week. There are eight of us in the family.
We have a daughter-in-law with two children, and she lives in a garage. It was a garage, but they have made of it a two-room house now. They, too, get $2 a week. She is Cecil's wife.
Mr. GRISWOLD. Does that $2 a week come from relief?
Mr. GRISWOLD. I think probably the committee could proceed better if we used the question method with this witness.
Mr. LAMBERTSON. Mrs. Jones, how long have your sons been gone? Mrs. JONES. All three of them died within 13 months. Shirley died in 1932, the 18th of June, and on the 25th of September Cecil died. On October 27, 1933, Owen died.
I lost my brother-in-law as a result of his working in this tunnel.
Another boy named Jeffrey, who had made his home with me until 2 weeks before he died, also died as the result of this working in the tunnel.
Mr. LAMBERTSON. How long were they sick, on an average ?
Mrs. JONES. Shirley was sick about 3 months, and during that time he could not go around. I would carry him from his bed to the table and from his bed to the porch in my arms.
Mr. LAMBERTSON. How did this silicosis affect them?
Mrs. JONES. They could not breathe. There was a shortage of breath. They complained of a pain in the chest.
Mr. LAMBERTSON. Have conditions gotten better or have they grown worse?
Mrs. Jones. They grow worse all the time. The one boy worked there about 18 months altogether, and he came home one evening with a shortness of breath. He said, "Mother, I cannot get my breath.” I told him, "Son, I believe that dust is harming you. I kept him at home after that for awhile, and then the tunnel foreman came and asked why the boy was not at work. His name was Mr. Anders, and I told him that I thought the tunnel dust was killing them. He said, “No; that is just a foolish idea of yours. I have been working in tunnels for 30 years. It will not hurt them.” When the boys would come home they would be all covered with this dust. It would be in their hair, in their eyes, and on their clothes. When they would come home and drop their clothes on the floor the dust would scatter all over the floor from the clothes.
Mr. LAMBERTSON. Did the boys say to you that they thought the law was being violated by the company with dry drilling?
Mrs. JONES. I do not think the boys knew that it was against the law to drill dry.
When they took sick I saw a doctor, but I could not get anything from him. Finally I begged money with which to put them in the Charleston hospital for the purpose of having X-rays made of their lungs. After they were X-rayed, Dr. Harless examined the X-ray pictures. I think another doctor or two examined them and they all said the boys had silicosis. The youngest boy did not get to go down there with me and he said, “Mother, when I die I want you to have them open me up and see if that dust killed me. Try to get compensation, because you will not have any way of making your living when we are gone, and the rest of them are going too.” After the death of these two boys we had their lungs removed to determine their condition.
Mr. LAMBERTSON. Where was that done?
Mrs. JONES. The undertaker looked after that. Dr. Harless had it done.
Mr. LAMBERTSON. Who examined him? Dr. Harless?
Mrs. JONES. Dr. Harless and another doctor that came in there. I do not remember his name.
Some of them sued, but somehow they must have been bought off. It did not amount to anything. We got $800 on each death. The first one that died asked me to take the money that I received as a result of his death and buy me a home, which I did. I got $800 and $500 and bought a 5-acre farm upon which there was a four-room house. We did not have anything left after that.
I asked the director of relief for help, but they were not willing to give it to me when they learned I had a cow. They asked me how I would keep the cow on $2 a week. I said that one week I would buy feed for the cow and the next week I would buy flour for the children. Mr. LAMBERTSON. Have you actually sustained yourself on that
a week? Mrs. JONES. I have picked up a washing once a week and made an extra dollar or two that way to help out.
Mr. DUNN of Pennsylvania. Did I understand you to say that your husband has silicosis?
Mrs. JONES. Yes, sir; he has.
Mr. DUNN of Pennsylvania. Have the doctors given you information as to how long he probably will live?
Mrs. JONES. I asked them about my husband working on relief jobs, and they told me not to have him go to work. They advised me to keep him at home.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. In other words, he is too sick to work.
Mrs. JONES. He does not seem to be so sick; he is just short of breath.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. How many children have you at home!
Mrs. JONES. We have six children at home.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. All of whom, I presume, are dependent upon you for support?
Mrs. JONES. Yes; that's right.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. The $2 a week that you obtain comes from relief funds?
Mrs. JONES. It does. Mr. DUNN of Pennsylvania. Did you ever ask for more? Mrs. JONES. Yes, sir; but they thought $2 a week was sufficient. They will not send me any more, or give it to me. I get out on the road and hitch-hike 18 miles at the end of each week to get that relief check. I go with my daughter-in-law, who gets $2 a week. She has two children.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. You bought a 4-room house?
she paid the taxes from that money.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. In other words, the whole family is still in need of more assistance ?
Mrs. JONES. Yes, sir; we can hardly live on what we get. I go to bed many nights crying and wondering how I will get food for the next day.
Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. Your three sons died within 2 years? Mrs. JONES. They died within
13 months. Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. How old was the youngest son! Mrs. JONES. He was 18. Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. How old was the next son? Mrs. JoNEs. He was 21 years old. Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania. And the next? Mrs. JONES. Twenty-three.
Mr. RANDOLPH. Before the sons started working in Hawks Nest tunnel, did you have any illness in your family?
Mrs. JONES. No, sir; we never did. They all had experienced perfect health,
Mr. MARCANTONIO. It has been stated in some of the newspapers that only three white men died. That statement seems to have been inspired by the contractor who built that tunnel. You say that at least four white men died.
Mrs. JONES. Three of my sons, my brother-in-law, and a boy who made his home with me and whom I had kept for about 7 years died. He died with the same thing my boys died with.
Mr. MARCANTONIO. Do you know how many persons died as a result of working in that tunnel !
Mrs. JONES. I can't say exactly, but there were many of them. Reports kept coming in every day about men working in the tunnel dying. Every day somebody died. Many colored men died. Mr. MARCANTONIO. Where did those reports come from? Mrs. JONES. Gauley Bridge. Mr. MARCANTONIO. Go ahead.
Mrs. JoNEs. They call it pneumonia at first. They didn't agree that it was silicosis until my boy died. They would pronounce it fever and that would be all there would be to it. They would then