Dream and Reality: The Modern Black Struggle for Freedom and Equality

By Jeannine Swift | Go to book overview
25 deaths from this cause occurred among those employed at least 5 years in the coke plant. The comparable number of expected deaths for whites in this area was 8.4 with only 7 actual deaths.( 38) Exposures to carcinogens and toxins were greatest among workers employed in full time "top side" jobs in the coke plant. Nineteen percent of nonwhite workers compared to only three percent of white workers were employed in this capacity. Significantly, almost all of the excess death rates from lung cancer were due to death of men employed in full time "top side" jobs at the coke Plant. The lung cancer rate among nonwhite full time "top side" workers was 8 times greater than expected, 19 versus 2.2. ( 39)Other illustrations of industry exposure of black workers to possible cancer-causing agents include the following:
1. The National Cancer Institute conducted a study of laundry and dry cleaning workers and found that blacks had higher death rates from cancer of the liver, lung, cervix, uterus, and skin.( 40)
2. A 1978 cancer mortality study of coastal Georgia residents found black shipyard workers to have a lung cancer death rate two times higher than expected.( 41)
3. A 1946 U.S. Public Health study of chromate workers found that the respiratory cancer mortality rate for all workers was 29 times higher than expected. However, the actual to expected respiratory cancer death ratio was 14.29 for whites and 80.00 for blacks.

These data suggest that the excess risk of cancer that exists for black workers as compared to white workers may be due to greater exposure of black workers to carcinogens in the work place. Moreover, the placement of blacks in greater numbers than whites in the most dangerous jobs in certain industries is the primary reason for this overexposure.


CONCLUSION

There are numerous factors that contribute to the health status of Black Americans. Occupational exposures, however, have received little attention. In fact, statistics on occupational safety and health are generally lacking, and race-specific data are even harder to find. However, black workers represent over 15 percent of the total work force in nearly 33 occupational categories. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the black work force remains overrepresented in low-pay, low-skill, highrisk blue collar and service occupations. Moreover, blacks are concentrated in certain industries, many of which have above average injury and illness rates. They are, for example, overrepresented in laundry and dry cleaning, tobacco manufacture, fabric mills, smelters, hospitals (as orderlies and attendants), and service industries. Available data on job placement patterns within certain industries strongly suggest that black workers are intentionally placed in the dirtiest and most hazardous jobs in certain industries. Generally, black workers are relegated by discriminatory employment practices into the least desirable jobs. Historically, racist attitudes or practices have exacerbated resulting health and safety problems. For example, the Gauley Bridge disaster ( 1930-1931) in West Virginia was responsible for the disability of 1500 workers and the death of 500 mostly black workers. They were recruited to tunnel through a mountain with a high silica content. Overexposure to this substance usually causes a chronic lung disease. In the Gauley Bridge incident, 169 black men literally dropped dead on the spot and were hurriedly buried on the spot. The workers who earned about thirty cents an

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