The majority of New York's timeless manhole covers are made by shoeless workers earning dollars a day in an anachronistic West Bengal, India foundry. The workers, pouring 2,500 degree molten metal into those classic ConEd molds, are usually stripped to the waist and bereft of anything resembling protective gear. New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, naturally responding to the world's increasing flatness, said only that "state law requires the city to buy the lowest-priced products available that fit its specifications," and apparently the Indians undercut their competitors, Fagin's Bedraggled Ragamuffin Concern Ltd. of the UK.

"'We can't maintain the luxury of Europe and the United States, with all the boots and all that,' said Sunil Modi, director of Shakti Industries," but he promised that they've never, ever, ever had any accident of any kind whatsoever. The New York Times photographer did see one worker briefly catch on fire, but he quickly extinguished himself without complaint. See? Sometimes the old ways are the best ways, or at least the cheapest.

When shown the Times' amazing photos of conditions in the foundry, ConEd officials promised to look into it and maybe add a line or two about safe workplaces to their bottom dollar contracts.

The C.H.U.D.s, Teenage Mutant Turtles, and mole men could not be reached for comment.

Photo: J. Adam Huggins for The New York Times
New York Manhole Covers, Forged Barefoot in India [NYT]