Wei Chaihua, 44, left his pristine life in rural China to make his fortune in the city. In Foshan, China, he worked in a factory that made parts for Char-Broil grills and gas stoves — without proper respirator protection. Now he’s dying of silicosis, a lung disease contracted by breathing in silica dust.
“I hoped to give my children a better future,” he told reporter Loretta Tofani.
This series of stories by Tofani, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 while at the Washington Post, showed how Chinese factory workers have been paying the real price of cheap U.S. imports.
Executive Editor Tom Baden said, “While Americans worry about the possible effects to children of lead on toys, Chinese workers who make the toys — and thousands of other products for America — touch and inhale high levels of carcinogenic materials every day, all day long. Benzene. Lead. Cadmium. Toulene. Nickel. Mercury. Millions are dying.”
Tofani added, “The factory workers’ lungs shut down, their kidneys fail, they lose fingers and limbs, all so Americans are guaranteed an unfettered flow of cut-rate merchandise.”
A freelance journalist, Tofani made five trips to China, providing well-documented details of the problem, supplementing her interviews with medical records, factory inspection records, medical journal articles, shipping records and Chinese government records.
The series, published Oct. 21-24, reverberated throughout the media as well as on Capitol Hill, where a Chinese dissident cited Tofani’s work as evidence in support of a bill to outlaw the import of goods made with sweatshop labor.
Judges found Tofani’s series to be “further-reaching than any submitted in this category because of the potential economic impact it prompts for many countries. … We enjoyed Tofani’s integral storytelling and reporting, and sophistication with the craft of journalism. This was a difficult story to read because it tugged so hard at our hearts and sense of values, and left us with a conscience.”