In the early predawn hours when the air is still and moist, phosphate fertilizer factories are often shrouded in an acidic haze. Temperature inversions form airy bubbles of noxious, acidic fumes. Lights from the factories seem to blaze through the hellish mist, and the lemony taste of sulfuric and hydrofluoric acid leaves the lips tingling with a slight burning sensation. Then the delicate tissues in the nostrils begin to tingle with a stinging sensation. Floating and sparkling in the still morning air, microscopic acid droplets splash against the thin film of fluid protecting the eyes, and subsequent burning and watering blur one's vision. And finally, the full impact of inhaling the noxious smog causes choking and coughing.
Sometimes, the misting hydrofluoric, fluorosilicic, phosphoric and sulfuric acids are so concentrated, they etch the windshields and eat the paint off cars passing through the fog.
For those employed at the phosphoric acid factories, this is the work world they enter every day. Day in and day out, they eat, breathe, and drink toxic pollution until they become too sick to work, or die.
Gary Owen Pittman was one of those people. While Gary and his coworkers worked amidst the toxic, corrosive fumes, the corporate elite at Occidental Chemical Corporation sat safely in wellventilated, air-conditioned offices some seven miles from the factory.
The emissions were so acidic at the plant, visiting secretaries complained of their panty hose being dissolved on their legs. Reassuringly, management said they had come into contact with some chemicals, but there was nothing to worry about.
Gary's first and last job was working for the Occidental Chemical Corporation's phosphoric acid factories in Hamilton County, Florida. Gary Pittman was 18 years old and in excellent health when he started to work in the analytical laboratory of the Suwannee River Plant. He rose from a $4,000 sample man in the laboratory to supervising one third of Occidental's Swift Creek plant, earning about $50,000 a year.
Today, Gary is unable to work and suffers from auto-immune disorders, toxic myopathy, chronic obstructive lung diseases with emphysema, chronic bronchitis, blood disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, liver dysfunctions, polyarthritis, swelling of feet and lower legs, muscle weakness, cardiac arrhythmia, reactive depression, and memory loss. He walks with a waddling gate and suffers dizziness: the diagnosis is toxic brain syndrome.
Gary Pittman does little these days except surf the internet to learn more about the toxic effects of chemicals to...