Sanitation workers at even greater risk during pandemic

By  | 

NBC, (WILX) - These months in quarantine have opened our eyes to the people and jobs we depend on but didn't think much about before now. That includes some local heroes who collect a vital and dangerous cargo.

"We want to make sure the city gets clean and that's a big deal for us," said sanitation worker Israel Enriquez.

He and his colleagues still making the rounds, collecting on average about 2,400 tons per day of trash, recycling and debris.

Even before the pandemic, the government labeled it one of the most dangerous jobs.

Now it's even riskier, but Enriquez says it's also more rewarding.

"We were nervous but we didn't let this paralyze us. There's a lot more to recycle and we actually need that cardboard right now. I know manufacturers they need that to ship all the essentials," he said.

"For residential, the volume has picked up extremely because you have people ordering. So we getting a lot more cardboard and paper recycling," said Ayanna Banks, a shop steward who works on the sorting line.

"Do you consider what you do dangerous?" asked NBC's Lester Holt.

"Health-wise, yes, it can be dangerous. Lots of different things coming through recycling and we have to be careful. Sometimes we'll get loose needles and have to make sure we don't get stuck," said Banks.

"You can see a needle but you can't see coronavirus," replied Holt.

"Exactly," said Banks. "So we don't even know what we're looking for in this case."

Their company Recology has put in place safeguards like staggered shifts and more protective gear.

Their work has not gone unnoticed. Residents have been leaving thank you notes.

"I get people stopping me and saying thank you for being here for doing your job and that's something we appreciate and take that to our hearts," said Enriquez. "The city needs us to be here and to get the job done and we're proud of it."

Copyright 2020 NBC and WILX. All rights reserved.