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My ship almost came in, but it got stuck on a sandbar

February 26, 2002|By TIM ROWLAND

I never look at the mail except about once a month when I go through a big pile of it and I have fun filling out the credit card offers in the name of Nevil Chamberlain or M. Goose.

Call me a "techie" if you must, but I pay bills online so there's never anything important in the mailbox that needs immediate attention.

So it was startling the other day when I was going through a bale of mail and came across a thick, manila envelope addressed to me from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Frankly, that's not an agency you want to hear from. I was sure I'd tested positive for leprosy, or they had tracked the source of the Ebola Zaire virus to my rec room.

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Instead, it was something out of my deep, dark past.

After the bold heading "Important Health and Safety Information, the letter commenced:

"Dear Mr. Rowland:

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducts research on the safety and health of workers. You were part of a group of industrial sand workers from 18 different plants studied by NIOSH. NIOSH reviewed employment records from the plants to learn more about the effects from exposure to silica."

As a man who is greatly concerned about health issues and the plight of labor in our society, one thought instantly crystallized in my mind upon reading the above paragraph: Money.

Hot dog, I thought, this sand mine is about to turn into a gold mine. Yes, come to think of it, it's obvious that my quality of life has been seriously diminished by the three years I worked for the old Pennsylvania Glass Sand plant in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., some two decades ago.

Yes, contrary to popular opinion, I have performed manual labor in my life: Bagging sand, loading freight cars, dynamiting tunnels, repairing dryer pipe - it was fun, but of a mild sort. We worked in a perpetual white, gritty haze, especially in the drying towers. They issued us respirators, which occasionally we wore but more often didn't because it was awkward to spit tobacco juice when they were strapped on.

Anyway, as visions of cash settlements danced in my head, I became mildly distracted by the thought that I couldn't exactly put my finger on what health-related problems I was experiencing, so I figured it might pay to read on.

"The enclosed brochure explains how the study was done and gives details about the study results. It is important to note that the increased risk of lung and kidney diseases refers to workers as a group. We cannot predict the future health of any individual worker."

Can't predict? The torture of not knowing what is to come? I smelled, nay, I FELT mental anguish here.

I was typing out my resignation and checking on real estate prices in San Carlos as I glanced over the rest of the missive:

"The enclosed fact sheet titled, 'You can protect your own health' presents information to help you reduce your risk of disease. We have also included a pamphlet titled, 'A guide to working safely with Silica.'

I couldn't help but notice by this point that NIOSH hadn't mentioned anything about cutting a check. With all the nasty diseases that sand mine workers are far more likely to contract, I thought it a little shallow to just be sending a brochure, a fact sheet and a pamphlet.

"Yes Mr. Enrique, I'll take this 22-foot, open-deck Bayliner, and in exchange I will give you this fact sheet." It didn't have a plausible ring to it.

I read said fact sheet about how you can protect yourself, and one of the recommendations was, I am not kidding, to "...eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, at least five servings a day."

Vegetables. That's the government's answer to everything.

No offense to NIOSH, but I would like to emphatically point out that carrot sticks will get me no closer to retirement. So thanks for nothing.

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