Brothers Santos and Mariano have been chasing work after hurricanes for nearly two decades. The grueling work of cleaning and rebuilding after natural disasters has taken a toll on their bodies.

Read the episode transcript here.

The brothers have been hospitalized following work accidents. One accident left Santos temporarily blind and another left Mariano in a coma for days after he fell off a roof while not wearing a safety harness. But after repeatedly being exposed to asbestos, lead and mold —the most common toxins found in post-disaster worksites— they are now experiencing health symptoms toxicologists say can be linked to those toxins, including skin and eye irritations, respiratory problems, and headaches. 

The immigrant brothers from Honduras and other workers like them are left to fend for themselves while the booming and loosely-regulated disaster restoration industry neglects worker safety. 

In a special episode by Futuro Investigates, in collaboration with The Center For Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Investigations, we look at how prolonged exposure to dangerous toxins affects the health of the workers who clean and rebuild American cities after natural disasters. 

Since there is no federal or state data to show how many disaster restoration workers get sick every year, our reporting team documented for the first time that the brothers’ symptoms after prolonged exposure to toxins were not unique. The team interviewed 100 Latino disaster restoration workers in Florida, Louisiana and Texas. 

Maria Hinojosa reflects on her reporting from 2005, which uncovered the dangerous conditions immigrant workers faced while rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. We reveal how these same conditions systemically continue almost 20 years later, as OSHA, the government agency tasked with protecting workers, often suspends enforcement of labor standards after disasters hit.

Maria and investigative journalist María Inés Zamudio also break down the labor supply chain, revealing how companies receive lucrative contracts to rebuild, but avoid responsibility over the safety of the workers they hire. We uncover how this industry has been so profitable for some, while workers are left unprotected and exposed to lethal toxins making them sick long after the cleanup.

Featured illustration by Janelle Retka.

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