It’s not the subway garbage that’s smelly — it’s the bags. Station cleaners say they’ve been falling ill after being in the same room as noxious trash bags.
Since February, workers have complained of headaches, nausea and dizziness after breathing in the foul odor emitted from these trash bags, according to union and transit officials.
Levia Morales, 49, a station cleaner on the Upper West Side, said she was hit with the potent stench while opening a box of trash bags too close to her face during a shift in March.
“When I opened it up it had a really bad odor — a horrible, strong odor,” she said, likening it to cat urine. “I just pulled myself back and I said ‘Wow.’”
She kept working until she went to her doctor a week later with complaints of dizziness and nausea. Morales, who took an MRI that came out normal, said she was advised to take time off.
“I was actually going to my doctor, complaining to him, why am I so dizzy? I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m nauseous,’” she said.
The single mother of a 7-year-old daughter put in a worker’s compensation claim on advice of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 after learning from a coworker that other station cleaners were coming down with the same symptoms.
But Morales’ claim for seven weeks of worker’s compensation was denied, she said.
“I don’t understand why, do I have to fight. I’ve been exposed to something you put out there,” Morales said.
After the Metropolitan Transportation Authority got wind of the funky trash bags, a top station operations official said in a memo obtained by the Daily News that “we immediately addressed the issue directly” by replacing more than half of 44 pallets of the trash bags in stock.
The station official, John Gaito, said in the March 28 memo, titled “Noxious Refuse Bags,” that the manufacturer did an on-site evaluation and tested the bags.
“Based on an exposure assessment by an independent industrial hygienist, there are no exposure hazards,” Gaito wrote in the memo.
The TWU, meanwhile, is getting a second opinion, sending two of the bags to the state Health Department for testing, according to an agency rep.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said all of the bags known to the agency were removed from transit property between Feb. 24 and April 11.
“Upon reports of noxious odors from these bags, we addressed the issue immediately by ceasing deliveries of any bags from the original vendor to our facilities and stations and immediately removed and replaced bags with different stock,” Ortiz said.
But there were still boxes on transit property as of last week, including one stored in a Bronx warehouse.
One box of the questionable refuse bags had a handwritten note on it that warned, “Do Not Use Garbage Bags,” “Making people sick.”
“We will obviously head on over there and investigate,” Ortiz said. “If bags are present they will be immediately returned to the original vendor.”
The vendor’s operations chief, Warren Marucha of All American Poly in Piscataway, N.J., said there was nothing unusual about their product found during the inspection.
“We were not able to detect or find an odor from the bags,” Marucha said. “And certainly nothing that would make anyone sick.”
It is unclear how many people filed Injury on Duty complaints over the smell.
But union officials are not buying claims that the bags are harmless.
“If there’s nothing wrong with the bags, why did you stop ordering them?” Paul Navarro, TWU’s subway safety director said. “If you did this independent test, where are the results?”
- Source: Daily News