Hawks Nest Tunnel

House of Representatives Subcommittee Report

Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the Second Session of the
Seventy- Fourth Congress of the United States of America
. Vol. 80, pt. 5. Washington: GPO, 1936.

[House of Representatives, April 1, 1936]

Mr. GRISWOLD. Mr. Chairman, in general debate on the Labor Department appropriation bill I think it is peculiarly apropos that I call the attention of the House to the Connery resolution - House Resolution 429 - now pending before the Rules Committee.

This resolution provides for an investigation, and gives power to the Committee on Labor to summon witnesses and investigate the silicosis situation throughout the country. This committee received its first knowledge of silicosis existing in the United States through a resolution introduced by the gentleman from New York [Mr. MARCANTONIO]. There are many things about which I do not agree with the gentleman from New York, but I think he is to be commended for calling the attention of the House to the situation at Gauley Bridge. Gauley Bridge, in. relation to the whole silicosis situation in the United States, is but an incident. It was the vehicle by which this matter was brought to the attention of the country.

I do not want to go into the findings of the subcommittee with respect to the situation at Gauley Bridge, but I do want at this time, Mr. Chairman, to ask unanimous consent to insert in the RECORD a report of the subcommittee which investigated this matter.

The CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Indiana asks unanimous consent to insert in his remarks the report of the subcommittee investigating the silicosis situation. Is there objection?

Mr, CHRISTIANSON. Mr. Chairman, reserving the right to object, I should like to know what is this publication the gentleman desires to put in the RECORD?

Mr. GRISWOLD. It is a report of the subcommittee of the Committee on Labor that investigated the silicosis situation. ' .

Mr. CHRISTIANSON. It has not been printed in any other form?

Mr. GRISWOLD. Not in any form that will reach the House or the RECORD. It is a report filed by the subcommittee with the chairman, of the entire committee.

Mr. CHRISTIANSON. Are committee copies of the report available?

Mr. GRISWOLD. Committee copies only. The report is about one typewritten page of the ordinary size.

Mr. CHRISTIANSON. I have no objection.

The CHAIRMAN. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Indiana?

There was no objection.

The matter referred to is as follows:

FEBRUARY 5,1936.

Chairman, Committee on Labor, Washington, D. C.

DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: The subcommittee appointed to consider H. J. Res. 449, a resolution to authorize the Secretary of Labor to appoint a board of inquiry to ascertain the tacts relating to health conditions of workers employed in the construction and maintenance of public utilities, respectfully submit the following report of its investigation.

Your committee held hearings from January 16, 1936, to February 4, 1936, inclusive, and heard many witnesses who testified to the conditions under which workmen were employed at the Hawk's Nest tunnel, Gauley Bridge, W. Va.

From the testimony of numerous witnesses, ranging from actual workers on the project to experts from the Federal Bureau of Mines, the subcommittee finds as follows:

That the Hawk's Nest tunnel was constructed by the contracting firm of Dennis & Rinehart, of Charlottesville, Va., for the New Kanawha Power Co., a subsidiary of the Union Carbide & Carbon Co. That a tunnel was drilled for an approximate distance of 3.75 miles to divert water from New River to a hydroelectric plant at Gauley Junction.

That in most of the tunnel the rock which was drilled contained more than 90 percent silica. That in some of the headings it ran as high as 99 percent pure silica. That this is a fact that was known, or by the exercise of ordinary and reasonable care should have been known, to the New Kanawha Power Co. and the firm of Dennis & Rinehart.

That silica is a dangerous element to health. That when submitted to contact with silica dust, the lungs of human beings become infected with a respiratory disease known as silicosis. This disease is caused by breathing into the lungs silica dust.

That the effect of breathing silica dust is well known to the medical profession and to all properly qualified mining engineers. The disease is incurable. It always results in physical incapacity and in a majority of cases is fatal. That for more than 20 years the United States Bureau of Mines has been issuing warnings and information while conducting the educational campaign on the dangers of silicosis and means of prevention. That the principal means of prevention are wet drilling, adequate and proper ventilation, and circulation of air, the use of respirators by the workmen, and drills equipped with a suction or vacuum-cup appliance.

The subcommittee finds that there was an utter disregard for all and any ot these approved methods ot prevention in the construction of this tunnel. That the dust was allowed to collect in such quantities and became so dense that visibility of workmen was lowered to a few feet. That workmen left the tunnel at the close of a working shift with their clothing and bodies covered with a dense coating of white silica dust. That the air-circulating system was inadequate, insufficient, and out of repair. That respirators were not furnished to or used by the employees of Dennis & Rinehart. That the majority of drills in use were used for dry drilling. That dry drilling is more rapid and effects a large saving in time and labor costs. That no appliances were used on the drills to prevent concentration of dust in the tunnel. That gasoline locomotives were used in the headings as well as the tunnel entrance, and that as a result there was great suffering from monoxide gas among the workers.

That the whole driving of the tunnel was begun, continued, and completed with grave and inhuman disregard of all consideration for the health, lives, and future ot the employees.

That as a result many workmen became infected with silicosis; that many died ot the disease and many not yet dead are doomed to die from the ravages of the disease as a result of their employment and the negligence of the employing contractor. That such negligence was either willful or the result of inexcusable and indefensible ignorance there can be no doubt on the face of the evidence presented to the committee.

Your subcommittee further finds that the disease of silicosis is prevalent in many States where mine and tunnel operations are now, or have been in the past, in progress. The subcommittee is of the opinion that the investigation thus far has but laid the groundwork and opened the subject for further investigation. That silicosis is one of the greatest menaces among occupational diseases and that State laws governing prevention and compensation are totally inadequate.

It is impossible in this report to go into details concerning all of the testimony. We suggest that the hearings be read in their entirety. The record presents a story of a condition that is hardly conceivable in a democratic government in the present century. It would be more representative of the Middle Ages. It is the story of a tragedy worthy of the pen of Victor Hugo - the story of men in the darkest days of the depression, with work hard to secure, driven by despair and the stark fear of hunger to work for a mere existence wage under almost intolerable conditions.

The officials of the contracting firm, Mr. P. H. Faulconer, the president, and Mr. E. J. Perkins, the vice president, were requested to appear before the subcommittee but declined to do so, stating that they had no knowledge of any deaths from silicosis contracted on the work. The record, however, shows the firm paid some claims for death from the disease.

The subcommittee is of the opinion that these officials should be brought before a committee, bringing with them their books and records.

The committee, therefore, recommends that a resolution be presented to the House asking for sufficient funds and authority to require the attendance of witnesses and to do all things necessary to procure a full and complete investigation.

Your subcommittee can do no more. Congress should do no less than to see that these citizens from many States who have paid the price for the electricity to be developed from the tunnel are vindicated,

If by their suffering and death they will have made life safer in future for the men who go beneath the earth to work, if they will have been able to establish a new and greater regard for human life in industry, their suffering may not have been in vain.


Chairman, Subcommittee.

Mr. CULKIN. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. GRISWOLD. I yield.

Mr. CULKIN. I understand this situation developed in the State of West Virginia.

Mr. GRISWOLD. It did; yes.

Mr. CULKIN. Does not the State of West Virginia owe some duty in this connection which it has not performed? I know that my State enforces the law in this respect.

Mr. GRISWOLD. I may say in answer to the gentleman's question that only 11 States in the United States have laws dealing with silicosis and other occupational diseases. There are today in this country 1,000,000 people who are potential victims of silicosis. There are actually 500,000 people in the United States today with silicosis, and from all the evidence we have been able to procure, silicosis is an absolutely incurable disease.

Mr. CULKIN. Then, must not the attack come from the States in the first instance, and is it not one of their highest functions to prevent the growth or spread of this disease or do away with the cause of it?

Mr. GRISWOLD. I will agree with the gentleman that it might be a State function, but I shall also insist that it ought to be a Federal function because the basic law creating the Bureau of Mines provides that this Bureau shall investigate these diseases and handle them. The trouble today is that the country is not silicosis conscious. The States have not had an opportunity to investigate and show just what it is. There is no adequate way in which they can investigate.

I may say further that since we have started this inquiry the Secretary of Labor has taken action. Never before, during all these years, did the Department of Labor make any attempt to take action, but now the Department has appointed a conference committee composed of 12 men.

This conference met on the 25th of February and again on the 11th of March, and, although they say they wanted to obtain information on silicosis, they failed to have any representative of the Bureau of Mines before it. They also failed to have any member of the Labor Committee. In all the years the Bureau of Mines is the only organization that has made any attempt to do anything about the silicosis situation or take any means of prevention.

Mr. CULKIN. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. GRISWOLD. I yield.

Mr. CULKIN. I want to commend the work of the gentleman's committee. It has been splendid. It is my belief that the State ought to definitely function as well as the Government.

Mr. GRISWOLD. I agree with the gentleman.

Mr. MARCANTONIO. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr, GRISWOLD. I yield.

Mr. MARCANTONIO. This disease has been known since the days of ancient Egypt. Only 11 States have legislation in reference to it. In my own State of New York a bill is pending before the State legislature on the subject of silicosis, but it is most inadequate to deal with the situation. We ought to have a law to require the Federal Power Commission to provide safety devices to protect the workers in these tunnels, and that is entirely for the Congress.

Mr. WITHROW. Will the gentleman yield?

Mr. GRISWOLD. I yield.

Mr. WITHROW. Did I understand the gentleman to say that there are possibly a million people afflicted with this terrible disease?

Mr. GRISWOLD. The best information we can get is that there are a million people potentially subject to this disease.

Mr. WITHROW. And it is not confined to any given area?

Mr. GRISWOLD. The Bureau of Mines says it is likely to occur in 30 States. We have had it over a period of years. It has been disastrous in Butte, Mont., and even in the gentleman's State of New York, in the Catskill tunnel, it developed in large proportions. As late as last month a survey conducted by the New York health authorities showed that stonecutters and granite workers - of over 50 percent of those examined had silicosis. Silicosis might be prevented by proper education and protective measures, but they are not being used.

Mr. WITHROW. I was under the impression that the investigations are being carried on now. What is the difficulty with the committee; did they not have authority to subpena witnesses to get proper information?

Mr. GRISWOLD. In the investigation of the Gauley Bridge situation the committee had no power to subpena witnesses and enforce their attendance. We heard people who came voluntarily, the Bureau of Mines, and the Department of Health, but when we tried to get the employer he refused, and we had no authority to force the witnesses. Dr. Hayhurst, who conducted a series of investigations at Gauley Bridge, refused to come because we had no authority to compel him. He conducted an investigation of the workers on the project, and is one of the greatest authorities on silicosis in the Nation.

The CHAIRMAN. The time of the gentleman from Indiana has expired.

Mr. GRISWOLD. Will the gentleman yield me 5 minutes more?

Mr. BACON. Mr. Chairman, I yield the gentleman from Indiana 5 minutes.

Mr. WITHROW. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?


Mr. WITHROW. Then, this is the case, that in investigating old-age pensions, and campaign expenditures and the like, in investigating lobbying expenditures and lobbying about the Capitol, we give proper authority to subpena witnesses and do as they please with them, but when it comes to making an investigation of a terrible disease, such as this, we hamstring the committee making the investigation by not permitting it to properly function and allowing it the authority to make it mandatory that these people who are not doing as they should do may be brought before the committee and compelled to testify.

Mr. GRISWOLD. I think the gentleman has the correct idea. This is the situation today. The Department of Labor, which never tried to investigate anything, functioning through a committee under the Secretary of Labor, decided that it would find out the cost of silicosis in dollars and cents, when a million of people in this country are suffering from a disease worse than consumption. We need a committee of Congress with power and authority to really investigate.

Mr. DUNN of Pennsylvania. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?


Mr. DUNN of Pennsylvania. Is it not a fact, from the information we obtained before the committee, that at least 250 to 300 people died within a period of 2 or 2 1/2 years because of this silicosis, which they developed in mines in West Virginia?

Mr. GRISWOLD. That is true of the Gauley Bridge situation.

Mr. DUNN of Pennsylvania. I agree with the gentleman from Wisconsin [Mr. WITHROW]. We are spending money investigating the Townsend old-age-pension system and other organizations that do not need any investigation, but if we ask for a few thousand dollars to make an investigation of corporations that are deliberately, and maliciously murdering human beings, we cannot get anything, so I think whoever is responsible for holding up this bill needs to be chastized and I would be willing to do it if they do not give it to us.

Mr. GRISWOLD. I might say to the members not familiar with the matter of silicosis, that the laboring men throughout the country who are most susceptible to this disease do not know anything about it. It comes from silica sand that gets into the lungs. The sand does not do the injury, but it is the chemical reaction. In one part of the country they call it "tunnelitis", and these company doctors have called it that. It is also called miners' pneumonia in other parts of the country, and if a man lingers a long time they call it miners' consumption. A man may become infected with silicosis for months and not know anything about what is the matter with him. The medical testimony developed that after being exposed to silica dust, sometimes 14 years have elapsed before a man dies from the disease. The disease itself is incurable. You can arrest it, but it leaves a man in a disabled condition, just as arrested tuberculosis leaves a man.

Mr. SCOTT. Is it not possible, in these tunnels, to put in machinery that carries the dust away so that it lessens the possibility of silicosis?

Mr. GRISWOLD. Yes; it is possible through wet drilling. The committee discovered this especially at the Gauley Bridge, that 16 drills were working and that there were six of them wet. The rest of them were worked dry, because they could work more quickly with dry drilling. They could do the work in one-third time that they could with a wet drill. Silica is present in many mining operations, other than tunnelling, but in this particular place at Gauley Bridge, they were drilling through rock that was 97 percent silica.

Mr. SCOTT. And did not your investigation also develop that when the inspectors came in, those parts of the tunnel were closed up as if nothing were going on, and when the inspectors left, they were opened up again?

Mr. GRISWOLD. Our investigation developed that silica dust was so thick in that tunnel that they could not see an electric light 10 feet away. The testimony is that they rang buzzers to let them know when inspectors were coming, and the workers then stopped the dry drilling until the coast was again clear.

The CHAIRMAN. The time of the gentleman from Indiana has again expired.


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