In 1975, when she was 18 years old, Yvette Flores got her first job. She helped assemble delicate parts to make some of the first supermarket checkout scanners. When her son Mark was born five years later, he had severe disabilities.

It took 30 years for her to connect her son’s problems to that first job.

Yvette discovered that she’d been inhaling and ingesting lead all day in the factory where she worked. And she’s not the only one. An occupational medicine doctor who treated workers in Silicon Valley in the 1970s and ’80s tells us about the widespread illnesses and injuries he saw – and how hard it was to get companies to open up about what was making his patients sick.

Reveal reporter Laura Starecheski partnered up with Jim Morris from The Center for Public Integrity to bring us Yvette and Mark’s story and also alert us to an alarming practice: Chemical exposures that never would be acceptable outside a plant’s fence are not only tolerated, but legal, inside the plant.

DIG DEEPER

  • Read the full story at PublicIntegrity.org.
  • Interactive: A comparison of chemical exposure limits and cancer risk.
  • Check out more from CPI’s Unequal risk series here.

Laura Starecheski is a senior radio editor for Reveal. Their radio work at Reveal has won a national Edward R. Murrow, a duPont-Columbia, and a Peabody, among other awards. Previously, they reported on health for NPR’s science desk and traveled the United States with host Al Letson for the Peabody Award-winning show “State of the Re:Union.” Their Radiolab story “Goat on a Cow” won a silver award for best documentary from the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and SOTRU's “The Hospital Always Wins” won a national Murrow Award. They have been a Rosalynn Carter fellow for mental health journalism and a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan. Starecheski is based in Philadelphia.

Jim Morris

Jim Morris has been a journalist since 1978, specializing in coverage of the environment and public health. He has won more than 50 awards for his work including the George Polk Award, the Sidney Hillman Award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award and five Texas Headliners awards. He directed a global investigation of the asbestos industry that won the first-place John B. Oakes Award for environmental reporting from Columbia University in 2011, and an IRE Medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has worked for newspapers in Texas and California, as well as publications such as U.S. News & World Report and Congressional Quarterly in Washington.