May Day, is Anybody Listening?

As many people know, May 1st is International Worker’s Day. It is also referred to as May Day, and when you consider the distressing treatment of workers in many countries – I feel that “May Day” could take on its other meaning and be a cry for help.

I have always advocated for worker issues – starting with the grape boycott when I was in high school. The poor living and working conditions farmworkers continue to endure to this very day, not to mention the agricultural chemicals they are exposed to, are things that I have always been aware of and continue to fight against.

However, working at SVTC I have learned even more about the very people who pick our food and make, dismantle or manage the products we buy – from computers to baby bottles – after they are at their end of life.

Somehow, workers aren’t considered ‘people.’ There is a maximum amount that people, meaning consumers, are allowed to be exposed to when it comes to toxics, but somehow that is different for workers – yup, as if their bodies somehow respond differently because they are working there.

Workers are the first to be exposed. Workers in the electronics industry learned the hard way that the chemicals they used caused cancer and birth defects in children. As famed toxics attorney Amanda Hawes states, “Every day is take your children to work day if you are a woman of child bearing age.”

All of these reasons are why SVTC feels very strongly that green jobs must truly be green for the workers – not just the environment. Manufacturing a solar panel full of toxic chemicals was not very green for the person who put it together or for the person who will have to dismantle it at the end of its life.

And, which communities are actually reaping the benefits of the panels? As reported in the Washington Post, a Chinese company that manufactures polysilicon for solar panels dumped silicon tetrachloride on farmland causing it to become infertile. As we have seen from electronics, (solar panels have a similar chemical makeup) toxic chemicals are destroying the water and air quality in the areas where these products are dismantled without proper equipment – mostly developing nations.

I hope that solar companies become leaders in the green energy movement and ensure that all workers, from production to recycling, don’t have to make the choice between having good health and welfare or having an income.

Solar has the potential to be our best solution to the energy crisis – one that gives and does not take away.

Here at SVTC we looking forward to an even brighter future with the solar industry.

lauren Ornelas
Campaign Director
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition

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