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MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE
GLENN GRISWOLD, Indiana, Chairman MATTHEW A. DUNN, Pennsylvania
W. P. LAMBERTSON, Kansas JENNINGS RANDOLPH, West Virginia VITO MARCANTONIO, New York
INVESTIGATION RELATING TO HEALTH CONDITIONS OF
WORKERS EMPLOYED IN THE CONSTRUCTION AND MAINTENANCE OF PUBLIC UTILITIES
THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 1936
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON LABOR,
Washington, D. C. The subcommittee this day met at 10:40 a. m., Hon. Glenn Griswold presiding, for consideration of House Joint Resolution 449, which reads as follows:
[H. J. Res. 449, 74th Cong., 2d sess. ]
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
Whereas four hundred and seventy-six tunnel workers employed by the Rinehart and Dennis Company, contractors for the New Kanawha Power Company, subsidiary of the Union Carbide and Carbon Company, have from time to time died from silicosis contracted while employed in digging out a tunnel at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia; and
Whereas one thousand five hundred workers are now suffering from silicosis contracted while employed in the construction of said tunnel at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia; and
Whereas one hundred and sixty-nine of said workers were buried in a field at Summerville, West Virginia, with cornstalks as their only gravestones and with no other means of identification; and
Whereas silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing silicate dust, this dust causing the growth of fibrous tissues in the lung gradually choking the air cells in the lung and bringing about certain death; and
Whereas this condition has existed for years and all efforts to expose it have been thwarted; and
Whereas there are other similar conditions existing in the United States in said industry: Therefore be it
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That (1) the Secretary of Labor shall immediately appoint a board of inquiry to make a prompt and thorough investigation of all facts relating to health conditions of workers employed in the construction and maintenance of public utilities.
(2) The board, or its duly authorized agents or agencies, shall at all reasonable times have access to, for the purpose of examination and the right to copy, any evidence of any person being investigated or proceeded against that relates to any matter under investigation or in question. Any member of the board shall have power to issue subpenas requiring the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of any evidence that relates to any matter under investigation or in question before the board, its member, agent, or agency conducting the hearing or investigation. Any member of the board, or any agent or agency designated by the board for such purposes, may administer oaths and affirmations, examine witnesses, and receive evidence. Such attendance of witnesses and the production of such evidence may be required from any place in the United States or any Territory or possession thereof at any designated place of hearing.
(3) In case of contumacy or refusal to obey a subpena issued to any person, any District Court of the United States or the United States courts of any Territory or possession, or the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, within the jurisdiction of which the inquiry is carried on or within the jurisdiction of which said person guilty of contumacy or refusal to obey is found or resides or transacts business, upon application by the board, shall have jurisdiction to issue to such person an order requiring such person to appear before the board, its member, agent, or agency, there to produce evidence if so ordered, or there to give testimony touching the matter under investigation or in question; and any failure to obey such order of the court may be punished by said court as contempt thereof.
(4) No person shall be excused from attending and testifying or from producing books, records, correspondence, documents, or other evidence in obedience to the subpena of the board on the ground that the testimony or evidence required of him may tend to incriminate him or subject him to a penalty of forfeiture; but no individual shall be prosecuted or subjected to any penalty or forfeiture for or on account of any transaction, matter, or thing concerning which he is compelled, after having claimed his privilege against self-incrimination, to testify or produce evidence, except that such individual so testifying shall not be exempt from prosecution and punishment for perjury committed in so testifying.
(5) Complaints, orders, and other process and papers of the board, its member, agent, or agency may be served either personally or by registered mail or by telegraph or by leaving a copy thereof at the principal office or place of business of the person required to be served. The verified return by the individual so serving the same setting forth the manner of such service shall be proof of the same, and the return post-office receipt or telegraph receipt therefor when registered and mailed or telegraphed as aforesaid shall be proof of seryice of the same. Witnesses summoned before the board, its member, agent, or agency shall be paid the same fees and mileage that are paid witnesses in the courts of the United States, and witnesses whose depositions are taken and the persons taking the same shall severally be entitled to the same fees as are paid for like services in the courts of the United States.
(6) All process of any court to which application may be made under this Act may be served in the judicial district wherein the defendant or other person required to be served resides or may be found.
(7) The several departments and agencies of the Government, when directed by the President, shall furnish the board, upon its request, all records, papers, and information in their possession relating to any matter before the board.
(8) Any person who shall willfully resist, prevent, impede, or interfere with any member of the board or any of its agents or agencies in the performance of duties pursuant to this Act shall be punished by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
(9) That said board of inquiry shall report to the Secretary of Labor its findings of fact and its recommendations, and the Secretary of Labor shall, with such summary or other report as she sees fit, transmit the same to the Congress.
STATEMENT OF PHILIPPA ALLEN
Mr. GRISWOLD. The subcommittee, which is composed of Mr. Griswold, Mr. Dunn of Pennsylvania, Mr. Randolph, Mr. Lambertson, and Mr. Marcantonio, will please be in order.
We have with us this morning, to be heard first, Miss Philippa Allen, of the Jacob A. Reis Neighborhood House, 48 Henry Street, New York City:
Miss Allen, the subcommittee should like to have you make a statement, if you have one, concerning conditions at or near Gauley Bridge, W. Va.
Miss ALLEN. As I understand, I am first to tell you what sort of work I am engaged in. I am a social worker connected with the Jacob A. Reis Neighborhood House, New York City.
I have spent the last four summers in West Virginia; and during the summer of 1934, when I was doing social work down there, I
first heard of what we were pleased to call the Gauley tunnel tragedy, which involves about 2,000 men.
According to the estimates of contractors, 2,000 men were employed there over a period of about 2 years in drilling 3.75 miles of tunnel to divert water from New River to a hydroelectric plant at Gauley Junction. The rock through which the workmen were boring was of a high silica content. In tunnel no. 1 it ran from 97 to 99 percent pure silica, and the contractors neglected to provide the workmen with any sort of safety device.
None of the workmen, who have lived around Gauley Bridge all of their lives, were aware of the risk they were running, despite the fact that sandstone outcroppings can be seen all over the roads. These were robust, hard-muscled workmen, and yet many of theni began dying almost as soon as the work on the tunnel started. With every breath they were breathing a massive dose of silica dust. That was the true explanation of it.
It usually takes from 10 to 20 years to develop fully in a man's lungs this condition, but the medical men said that these men were working under extremely dusty conditions and the doses they received were massive indeed.
Silica dust is deadly, in large doses. Every worker examined by a physician after working in the tunnel any length of time has been found to have this dreadful disease. It is a lung disease that cannot be arrested, once it is started. Ultimately, the victim strangles to death.
When I tried to tabulate the number of workmen who had died as a result of this condition, I found it impossible to do so for several reasons: First, because before it was generally known what was really killing these men company doctors had diagnosed the numerous deaths as pneumonia, to which silicosis-infected lungs are susceptible; second, the undertaker who handled many of the burials testified in court that his records had been destroyed; third, after suits were started and everybody knew that rock dust was causing this dreadful state of things and killing the men on the tunnel job, workmen left their jobs there and scattered all over the country.
This tunnel is part of a huge water-power project which began in the latter part of 1929 under the direction of the New Kanawha Power Co., a subsidiary of the Union Carbide & Carbon Co. That company was licensed by the State of West Virginia Power Commission to develop power for public sale, and ostensibly it was to do that; but, in reality, it was formed to sell all the power to the Electro-Metallurgical Co., a subsidiary of the Union Carbide & Carbon Co., which was by an act of the State legislature allowed to buy up the New Kanawha Power Co. in 1933.
I should like to state that I am now making a very general statement as a beginning. There are many points that I should like to develop later, but I shall try to give you a general history of this condition first.
I found when I went to Gauley Bridge that men were still dying like flies in 1934. These were men who characterized themselves as generally following the mines as a trade. Mining in West Virginia is unsteady, and these men went into this tunnel work because they thought it offered opportunity for steady work at better wages, and
that it was work which did not possess the hazards they had met in mining coal, such hazards being poisonous gases and falling rocks.
Of the 2,000 men employed there over a period of nearly 3 years, many have been examined by private doctors. Men began to succumb to the bad condition within 1, 2, or 3 years after they started to engage in the work. It seems that but few of the 2,000 men affected will escape.
Nobody knew of the dangers of this dusty tunnel until the first of the $6,000,000 of lawsuits against the New Kanawha Power Co. and Rinehart & Dennis, contractors, of Charlottesville, Va., were filed. All the lawsuits charged that men were dead or were dying because of working in the tunnel.
The first suits were brought to trial in the spring of 1933. The lawyers representing 300 men settled out of court after the first suit resulted in a hung jury. They settled for a sum of $130,000. The lawyers had taken the cases on a 50-percent-contingency basis, therefore only a very small sum was left to be divided between a large number of men after the lawyers' fees had been subtracted; but not all of the 300 men who were made to sign releases of claims for damages against the power company and Rinehart & Dennis, contractors, before settlement was made shared in the division of the money.
The reason for this, as I was told, was the hasty diagnosis of a special commission of three doctors appointed to examine the affected men.
These doctors were Dr. Harliss, of Gauley Bridge, Dr. Huey, of Charleston, and Dr. Hayherst, who is a consultant for the State of Ohio State Board of Health on occupational diseases. That board found that only 150 of the 300 affected men had silicosis. The remainder of the men developed symptoms and later petitioned the court to resue.
I want to recite some of the conditions that were uncovered concerning working conditions in the tunnel at the trial. The dust was so thick in the tunnel that the atmosphere resembled a patch of dense fog. It was estimated on the witness stand in the little courtroom at Fayetteville, where suits against the builders of the tunnel were tried, that workmen in the tunnel could see only 10 to 15 feet ahead em at times. Man after man-drillers, drill helpers, nippers, muckers, dinkey runners, and members of the surveying crew who were the plaintiff's witnesses-told of this dusty condition. They said that although the tunnel was thoroughly lighted, the dinkey engine ran into cars on the track because the brakeman and dinkey runner could not see them. Laird King drove his dinkey into the little one and wrecked it, and Otis Edna, his brakeman, jumped off the front end just in time to save his life. Nippers who took charge of the steel bits could not see the signs given by the drillers when they needed "steel” and the signals had to be relayed. Dust got in the men's hair, on their faces, in their eyebrows; their clothing was thick with it. Raymond Johnson described how men blew dust off themselves with compressed air in the tunnel; if they did not they came out of the tunnel white, he said. One worker told how dust settled on top of the drinking water, “so I took milk in the tunnel with me and drank it instead."
What caused this dusty condition! The use of dry drills, said the workmen. J. J. Huffman told the court how he asked the foreman