The Hawks Nest Tunnel: An Unabridged History is a compilation of rare first-hand accounts of the travesty that claimed perhaps thousands of lives during a depression-era construction project in West Virginia
The story of the construction of the Hawks Nest Tunnel--often referred to as "the Hawks Nest Incident," embodies a wealth of social, cultural and industrial practices almost impossible to imagine today. Essentially it's a story that perhaps could only have happened during the Great Depression--although one would be hard pressed not to glean similarities between the milieu of the 30's and the current problems facing many third world countries--not to mention all too many struggling American workers in today's declining economy.
Originally the project was one of digging a tunnel to divert waters from the ancient New River in Fayetee County, WV, to an electical generating power plant at the base of Gauley Mountain. Part of this project also involved building a dam across the New River at Hawks Nest. In order to do so Union Carbide first had to receive permission from the WV Public Service Commission. By presenting their project under the auspices of "The New Kanawha Power Company" (essentially a fictitous public service unitility), Union Carbide received permission to dam the river and excavate a 3-mile tunnel.
During the construction of the tunnel, workers encountered silica of such purity that original tunnel dimensions were expanded significantly in order to capture this "mother lode." The significance of pure silica rested in the fact that Union Carbide's plant at Alloy, several miles downstream from the powerplant, utilized silica in its ferrous-silicon manufacturing process.
All well and good for Union Carbide.
In the interim, however, thousands of migrant, intinerant and local workers suffered exposure to silica dust in a confined environment--the devastating effects of which soon killed untold hundreds upon hundreds of men. To compound this tragedy, most of the workers were indigent black men with families spread throughout the south. Conceivably many of these families never knew the fate of the fathers, husbands, brothers and/or uncles who succumbed to the deadly effects of silicosis.
Rather than interpret the actions of men whose deeds led to this travesty, "The Hawks Nest Tunnel: An Unabridged History" literally sets forth the original documents, testimonies, newspaper articles, personal letters and more--allowing readers and scholars alike to arrive at their own conclusions related to culpability and responsibility.