CHRIS BOWMAN, SACRAMENTO BEE, JULY 30, 2006
By the time Irma Ortiz discovered she had been breathing toxic fumes on her job as a mixer at Carmi Flavors near Los Angeles, she had lost at least 70 percent of her lung capacity. Ortiz, 44, a nonsmoker who used to lift 50-pound bags routinely, now finds walking so difficult she spends most of her time indoors. Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua
LOS ANGELES — Hacking and gasping, Irma Ortiz could cart her groceries only so far before she’d catch other shoppers glaring at her.
Mortified, she’d abandon her cart on the spot and bolt for the door.
Frank Herrera could gun his dirt bike only so far before choking on the rush of air. Go. Stop. Go. Stop. Exasperated, he gave up riding.
Ortiz, 44, and Herrera, 34, are odd candidates for lung transplants, being nonsmokers and having considerable youth on their side.
How they lost 70 to 80 percent of their breathing capacity is no less astonishing. They acquired the same rare, lung-ravaging disease from breathing the same chemicals on the same type of job.
The two weren’t working in a chemical or pesticide plant. Nor in a weapons plant. They didn’t metal-plate, fumigate, degrease, demolish, smelt or weld.