Hazardous Job + Injury = You're Fired

Comments (4)
Eddie Valencia with his son, Joshua. Valencia says he suffered internal injuries at work after cleaning a chlorine tank. (Photo: Sam Rubio)

Eddie Valencia with his son, Joshua. Valencia says he suffered internal injuries at work after cleaning a chlorine tank. (Photo: Sam Rubio)

MENDOTA -- Recently, my friend Eddie Valencia, 27, mentioned a tightness in his chest. Eddie does not have asthma or other respiratory problems. But he was pretty sure he knew what was causing his symptoms. "It could have been the four and a half hours I spent with two other guys from my work, cleaning out a tank with chlorine with nothing more than gloves in the form of protective gear."

I advised Eddie of the potential long-term effects of chlorine exposure and told him to contact Poison Control. Embarrassed, he wondered if he should go to the hospital. But he worried about what his supervisors would do if they found out he went to the ER for treatment of a work related symptom. "I don't want to go," Eddie said. "They're going to try to fire me, watch."

Eddie finally decided to go to the company’s recommended physician. “He used the stethoscope and did a little blood work and told me everything seemed fine,” Valencia said. “I asked if I needed an X-ray done and the doc said it wouldn’t be necessary. But, then I told him that I read it in our company’s MSDS [Material Safety Data Sheet] that too much exposure to this chemical could lead to tissue damage of the lungs." At that point, the doctor scheduled Eddie for an X-ray.

Eddie left the doctor’s office with a lack of confidence in the visit, but returned to work nonetheless.

I've seen this other times, with other people I know in Mendota. So often do employees allow themselves to be put in uncomfortable and even dangerous situations in order to get a job done. Holding on to stable work is crucial for residents of Mendota. Unemployment is so high here that a Fresno Bee article labeled Mendota the "unemployment capital of California."

By now, Eddie's X-ray had come back showing swelling and irritation. Eddie says the physician he had seen, the one recommended by his employer, advised him the problems would go away. They didn't.

About three weeks after the initial chlorine exposure, Eddie was working the night shift when he started feeling nauseated and then vomited blood. Eddie says he finished his shift for fear of being criticized by management. He drove to the nearest emergency room with his wife. The ER doctor told him he had an irritation in his gastro-intestinal tract.

Eddie, now worried, decided to seek a second opinion about the effects of the chlorine exposure. This second physician diagnosed esophageal irritation, bleeding ulcers due to chemical exposure and toxicity to the liver. Eddie had to miss work in order to see this doctor. The next day he was fired, for having missed work.

“It doesn’t feel right what they did,” said Eddie. "I have a wife and two kids to support. Now I have no job because someone at the company thinks I’m making this all up."

Eddie has been seeking employment since he was laid off, but no luck so far.

Since he is considering legal action, he is reluctant to name the company he worked for, an international processor of agricultural products.

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About Sam Rubio

I was born and raised in western Fresno County. I graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. Upon receiving my degree, I returned to Mendota and accepted a job with the local school district. I taught high school science for a year; I also accepted the position of head wrestling coach which I held for three years. After teaching at the high school I opened a small café in my hometown. Since returning to my community, I have led countless projects to beautify the city. I have worked with volunteers to plant trees and educate the residents of Mendota on smoke detector safety and proper litter disposal. I have led volunteers in projects painting murals, cleaning parks, pulling litter out of local canals and cleaning graffiti in efforts to show the community the power of organization and group efforts. I have recently completed a Post-Baccalaureate program through the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, and am currently applying to medical school.

Comments (4)

  1. Pissed says:

    Wait, isn’t that like totally illegal? Who’s calling OSHA on these guys? This guy needs his job back and he needs to be treated for his injuries. Why is this even a question? What am I missing here?

  2. Mindy Brookshire says:

    I agree- what does OSHA have to say not to mention the State workers compensation program? Fired for missing work due to possible job related injury? Definatly fight thisa- he should see if others at his employer have had this happen to them- I am thinking class action lawsuit if the company won’t do the right thing.

  3. Edward Valencia says:

    I am currently seeing an attorney and going forward with legal action!!! I wish there was another way around this I would rather be working but the way the job market is it gives my few choices! Legal action is my only choice! Thank u for your concerns!! And God Bless u!!

  4. Nancy says:

    That’s capitalism for you. Workers are dispensable. How many other hardworking individuals in this area face the same health issues? My dad services tractors and other ag equipment and often experiences asthma-like symptoms.