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Immigrants Fuel the Disaster-Restoration Industry...and Pay a Price

September 30, 2023 (1 min read)

Janelle Retka, Samantha McCabe, Jiahui Huang and María Inés Zamudio, The Center for Public Integrity, Sept. 28, 2023

"As climate change accelerates natural catastrophes, the disaster-restoration industry has capitalized on low-wage immigrant labor. These workers — who clear debris and build anew after hurricanes, floods and wildfires — perform the most arduous tasks. And this comes at a health cost for those exposed to harmful toxins like mold, asbestos and lead. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency created to protect workers, has ignored research on workplace safeguards against post-disaster toxic exposures. OSHA has enacted an emergency-response policy favoring a fast recovery over worker health.  This booming industry runs on mostly working-age and undocumented migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean who fled poverty, violence and natural disasters in their homelands. Preoccupied with survival, they can fall victim to abuses routinely inflicted upon immigrant workers in the U.S. — wage theft, harassment. But these workers also contend with an overlooked threat: the potentially lethal contaminants propagated by climate-fueled disasters.   Many disaster-restoration workers are exposed to known carcinogens and various toxins, often unwittingly and without protections, which can make them sick, an investigation by CJI and Public Integrity found. Some suffer debilitating health issues long after they’ve left cleanup jobs."