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Bricklayer Chris Johnson contracted acute silicosis triggered by silica dust exposure on the job. The U.S. government has failed for 40 years to more strictly control silica in American workplaces — exposing countless otherworkers to this lethal substance — and leaving Johnson with a life expectancy of five more years.

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Maryam Jameel is a reporter on the environment and labor team. She joined the Center for Public Integrity...