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I'm Sick of It

One of the most important things in life is to do the right thing. But, doing the right
thing isnt always easy. For example, I have had difficulty in doing the right thing when I
was confronted with a situation that arose in the workplace. The technicians in the
workplace had been being exposed to potentially harmful chemicals and the situation was
not being appropriately addressed. The most difficult part of my situation was deciding if
I should do the right thing and report the hazards in the workplace to the authorities. If I
did, then it could mean causing a tension between myself and others in the workplace
who may view me as being in opposition of the company. I ended up losing this job in
exchange for being able to sleep well at night knowing I had done the right thing.
It was a cold winter day in Cleveland, Ohio and I was wearing the North Face jacket
that I bought back at the end of fall. I had just gotten to work after the typical thirty
minute commute and was ready to get my work day started. As I got out of the car, the
cold wind hit my face and I proceeded rapidly to the building. I walked into work and
took off my jacket, then I headed to the closet and put my jacket on a hanger. Greg was
sitting at his desk as usual. I started off our regular morning conversation,
"Good morning Greg."
"Good morning! How are you Vince?"
"I'm doing well. Thank you."
As always, I had been the first of the technicians to arrive. Once I got to the work
room, I pulled a pair of blue nitrile gloves out of the large bag that we kept in a drawer. I
slid the gloves on my hands and picked up the bottle of isopropyl alcohol I typically used
to clean the products we received and set it on the work bench. The parts we received
were individually boxed and I removed the individual boxes from the box in which the
products had been shipped. I opened each individual box to reveal a bubble wrapped

pressure transducer, and I proceeded to remove the bubble wrap. Eventually, I had
unwrapped all of the transducers and everything was ready to be cleaned.
I picked up a pressure transducer and began to squirt the isopropyl alcohol into its
port. Once the port was mostly full of alcohol, I covered it with my finger and shook the
transducer really well. After about thirty seconds of vigorous shaking, I emptied the
alcohol into a collection dish. The transducer was set to the side in a new pile and I
continued the process with the next transducer. The goal was to make sure that there were
no hydrocarbons or debris in the ports before sending the transducers out to the
customers. The process proved to be rather tedious at times and so it was always pleasant
to have someone to talk with while working.
Brandon and Robert came in together about five minutes late as usual. The two came
to work together every day since they lived together. They are cousins and they were
fairly close with one another. Though this may have been the case, their personalities
were completely different. Brandon was much more extroverted than his cousin Robert.
Due to this, I had always felt a closer bond with Brandon than with Robert.
"Hi guys, how are you today?"
They both grumbled. Both were still half asleep.
Robert was working outside of the area where Brandon and I were working on this
day. Brandon was working on a project similar to mine; he was cleaning transducers as
well. Brandon was using a product known to us technicians as "Ensovl." This product is
composed of n-Propyl Bromide and chemical stabilizers. This product is known to be
detrimental to human health, but the extent that this is the case was not elaborately known
to most of the technicians. Brandon was not only using Ensolv, but also "Vertrel," another
toxic mixture. At the time of the incident, it was becoming increasingly clear to the public
that the use of n-Propyl Bromide should be more regulated due to it's toxicity.

I began to feel ill.

"Bro, do you feel weird?" I asked Brandon
"Yeah, it's like time is... Yeah..."
"So it's not just me?"
We were both starting to feel the onset of various side effects related to the
chemical's use. We joked around as the chemical was used. Brandon and I typically did
joke around during work to make the time go faster. I started to feel very detached from
reality and Brandon became increasingly senseless in his conversation with me. There
were parts of the day where I could not remember what I had just done. Time was moving
in a very peculiar fashion and seemed to be passing in a rapid manner. The only reason I
"snapped back" was because of an intense burning sensation in my lungs that demanded
my attention.
Ryan, a management official, stepped into the work room at the latter part of the day.
"Are you all okay?"
"Do your lungs burn like mine Brandon?" I asked.
"Uhh, what?"
By this point, I was starting to get very concerned. Brandon was severely impacted
by the chemical and was showing obvious signs of cognitive impairment.
"Do you guys want more respirators? You like to breathe don't you?"
I was shocked by Ryan's apparent lack of care. He may not have been able to
appropriately assess the situation since he was not adequately trained. Regardless, I knew
Ryan was aware of the situation previously because he often times would come back to

ask us if we were feeling alright. It had been months since the chemical was first used.
Despite management's knowledge of our occasional use of Ensolv (and possibly Vertrel,)
no further action was taken to reduce the exposure levels. I usually just brushed this off
and figured that it would be best not to ruffle any feathers. I had never experienced side
effects as severe as the ones which I experienced from this exposure, and I did not want
to lose my job. All we had was a single respirator that was capable of filtering organic
vapors such as those produced by Ensolv. Obviously, there is a health risk in sharing a
respirator, but no one had stepped up to fix the problem.
The next day, I began to do some extensive research on the chemicals. We didn't
often use these products, but occasionally we did use them. I found that the products in
question were known to cause respiratory irritation, sterility, and effects related to the
central nervous system such as those Brandon and I experienced. This greatly upset me
and I began to research what I could do to ensure that something such as this didn't
happen again. I pulled up the OSHA website and began studying the varies regulations. I
noticed that there were a lot of regulations that had not been being followed and so I
decided that enough was enough and I contacted OSHA.
The day following, I began to fall very ill and began to develop symptoms such as
lyringitis, sinusitis, and continued burning sensations in my lungs. These symptoms
developed over the course of the next few days following the exposure. Eventually, the
symptoms hit a peak and at this point I saw several doctors. I received prescriptions for
my medical issues that had developed and slowly began to feel better.
A few days later, an inspector came and talked to Ryan. The inspector did a thorough
inspection to find any OSHA violations. The inspector then had another talk with Ryan.
She proceeded to ask us a few questions and explained some things to us all.
"Ensolv contains n-Propyl Bromide which is not regulated by OSHA."

"Well, we experienced very severe side effects," I remarked.

"I will be back after President's Day to do further analysis. I explained to Ryan that
you all should not be using this product in the workplace. Though there are no laws
against its use, it still isn't something that is entirely safe."
I, eventually, was put on paid leave for medical reasons and the other technicians
were still working. I've learned never to assume that my health will be taken into account
when dealing with businesses. Now that I am feeling better, I can take a moment to
reflect on what has happened. I am very thankful that the federal government has put into
place something such as OSHA to protect workers such as myself. It is a great relief to
me to know that nobody's life will be at risk while on the job.
I ended up being assigned to a job site over seventy miles from my home. I was
exceptionally dismayed. I contacted OSHA for help, but they could only offer limited
assistance due to the circumstances. I quit the job because I was unable to keep up with
both college and the commute that I was assigned. I do not regret this because I know that
I did the right thing, and I know that my skills and ambitions are able to be put to use by
the other organizations where I am currently employed. I was later advised that the
primary culprit, n-propyl-bromide, was disposed of after the investigation. At least I had
the condolence from my family and OSHA regarding the issue.
This experience taught me that there are times in one's life when it is necessary to
take drastic measures in order to right an injustice. Sometimes, enough is enough and one
must stand up and take charge of the situation. If I hadn't stood up for what was right in
the workplace, I could have ended up being exposed to these chemicals again. For all I
know, the next time this may have killed me or someone else.