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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Autumn 2001

One Victim’s Story

Joe Harding was one of many workers exposed to radiation at Union Carbide’s uranium-processing plant in Paducah, Kentucky. "I spent all those years breathing uranium hexafluoride gas that was so thick and heavy in the air you could see the haze when you looked at a ceiling light," Harding testified. "You could taste it coated on your teeth and in your throat and lungs."

On one occasion, Harding and his co-workers dropped smoking chunks of uranium into their urine samples to be checked by company safety inspectors. "We never heard from them," he recalled.

In the 1950s, Harding developed open sores on his legs that eventually spread to his chest, arms, hands and face. By 1953, his weight dropped from 175 to 125 pounds. Doctors removed 95 percent of his stomach and his weight fell to 112 pounds. After repeated bouts of pneumonia, doctors found his lungs were pitted with tiny craters.

In 1970, Harding’s maladies became even more grotesque. "Fingernails" began growing through the undersides of his thumbs and fingers. Similar "nails" began sprouting from his knuckles, joints, knees and the arches of his feet.

His doctors attributed the bizarre outbreaks to a mutation caused by his exposure to on-the-job radiation.

   

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