April 11, 2024

2024 Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture Examines Silicosis Epidemic Among Artificial-Stone Fabricators

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (April 17, 2024 BUSINESS WIRE)—Jim Morris, award-winning author, journalist, and founder of Public Health Watch, will present the 2024 Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture during AIHA Connect, the annual conference and expo for occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) professionals hosted by AIHA. Morris’s talk, titled “The Silicosis Epidemic,” describes the nation’s largest modern workplace cluster of silicosis, discovered in artificial-stone fabricators in Southern California. The lecture is scheduled at 3:15 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, May 20, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

In collaboration with Southern California Public Radio and Univision, Morris’s investigation resulted in Cal/OSHA issuing an emergency rule requiring employers of fabrication shops to suppress silica dust with water and take other protective measures to protect their employees, who are mostly young Latino men.

When countertop slabs are cut or ground without proper precautions, silica dust becomes airborne and enters workers’ lungs, which can result in lung-scarring and slow suffocation after exposure ends. “Silicosis is a death sentence for these workers,” Morris said. “Most don’t survive more than a few months or at best a year, without a lung transplant. Even a transplant will extend their lives by only five or 10 years.”

Morris’s team was aided by two treating physicians who also testified in support of the Cal/OSHA rule. “We reached more potential patients through these doctors, and ultimately, saved lives,” he said. “I am honored to present this story and keep public attention focused on these workers and this preventable illness.”

AIHA Connect 2024 will occur May 20 to 22 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Members of media interested in obtaining press passes to the Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture should contact Jessie Lewis, AIHA’s director of marketing, at [email protected].

About the Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture
The Upton Sinclair Memorial Lecture for an Outstanding Occupational Safety and Health News Story of the Year was first awarded in 2000 by AIHA’s Social Concerns Committee. The annual lecture highlights the importance of media in occupational safety and health, examines issues of relevance globally beyond members’ plants and companies, involves the public in the cause of occupational safety and health, and recognizes good investigative reporting. The lecture is named in honor of political activist, Upton Sinclair, best known for his 1906 novel, The Jungle, which revealed the horrors experienced by workers in Chicago’s meatpacking plants and led to major health and safety changes in the industry.

About Jim Morris
Jim Morris is executive director and editor-in-chief of Public Health Watch and has been a journalist since 1978, focusing on public health and the environment. He has received more than 85 awards for his work, including the Barlett and Steele Gold Award (for the silicosis investigation), the George Polk award, the Sidney Hillman award, three National Association of Science Writers awards, two national Edward R. Murrow awards, and five Texas Headliners awards. He is the author of The Cancer Factory, a book published by Beacon Press that explores one of America’s worst outbreaks of occupational cancer.

Previously, Morris served as senior reporter, managing editor, acting CEO, and executive editor for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization in Washington, DC, where he directed award-winning global investigations of the asbestos industry, health and safety threats to American workers, the flawed federal black lung benefits program, and toxic air emissions from hydraulic fracturing. Morris has worked for newspapers in Texas and California as well as national publications including U.S. News & World Report and Congressional Quarterly.

About AIHA
AIHA is the association for scientists and professionals committed to preserving and ensuring occupational and environmental health and safety in the workplace and community. Founded in 1939, we support our members with our expertise, networks, comprehensive education programs, and other products and services that help them maintain the highest professional and competency standards. More than half of AIHA's nearly 8,500 members are Certified Industrial Hygienists, and many hold other professional designations. AIHA serves as a resource for those employed across the public and private sectors, as well as to the communities in which they work. For more information, visit www.aiha.org