Suicide Solution - One Woman's Way Out

by Mark Worth
The Free Press

Claudia Sartain worked at Boeing's Auburn plant for about six years. Her friends called her "Dea."
Like dozens of other workers, Dea got sick in 1988 while "laying up" sheets of material containing phenol formaldehyde onto airplane cabin parts in the infamous 17-02 Building.
"All of us were to work with ... this new, wonderous [sic] material. I knew it was experimental," Dea would later write. "I felt dizzy, nauseous, my speech was impaired for hours, and had headaches."
Dea, a 10-year Boeing employee, asked her boss what phenol formaldehyde was. He responded, "Good question."
"I started getting ... depressed and moody. I was living off of Tums and aspirin," Dea wrote. "On a Sunday double-time, I left half way through the day. My head was throbbing. That was when I really started realizing something was wrong."
Like many others, Dea filed for worker's compensation when she got too sick to work. And like many others, the benefits were eventually taken away when Boeing - contending there was no "tangible link" between the chemicals and workers' sickness - asked the state to let the company turn the money off. The state obliged.
Like many of her friends, Dea went back to work. It was October of 1989. Boeing put Dea to work in a different place at the Auburn plant - the 17-05 Building - but she was working with the same strange compound that sickened her in the first place. This second time around, Dea would not last very long.
In a four-page letter that former co-worker Billie McCormick hangs onto as a keepsake, Dea described in detail what it was like at the Auburn parts-fabrication plant: working while hanging upside-down ("We would stay in these positions sometimes for days ..."), working with carcinogenic adhesives ("Women were having miscarriages all the time ..."), and arguing with her boss about handling toxic chemicals ("All you're worried about is this material. How much is my life worth?")
"She got so tired of being sick," said McCormick, who Dea called 'Mom.' "She didn't see any way she could live."
A few days after New Year's Day of 1990, Dea went to her brother's house and stole his gun.
"She left her house about 10:30 or 11 in the morning," McCormick remembers. "She pulled up in the front yard of a friend's house and blew her brains out ... I was supposed to see her the next day."
Dea was single and had no children. She was 32.

Related Stories/Resources:
Main Story: "It's All In Your Head"
Disunity Among the Machinists
The MCS Debate: A Medical Streetfight
On Top of Everything Else, Sick Boeing Workers Face Judicial Hurdles

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Contents on this page were published in the February/March, 1994 edition of the Washington Free Press.
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