New York Asbestos Exposure Sites
New York asbestos exposure sites are contaminated areas where state residents are likely to be exposed to asbestos. The use of asbestos in America began sometime in the 1820s during the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the enactment of New York mesothelioma and asbestos laws, several New York companies mass-produced asbestos products. During the time, asbestos was used mainly in building materials because of its insulation and non-corrosive properties.
Asbestos use in New York was prevalent between the 1920s and the 1970s when health concerns about its carcinogenic effects started surfacing. By 1990, the government had restricted the use of asbestos. However, the damage was already done, and today, several places and buildings in New York still present a risk of asbestos exposure to inhabitants. Exposure to asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, digestive tract cancer, or mesothelioma. These diseases typically take years after the initial exposure to develop.
How Does Asbestos Exposure Happen in New York?
Asbestos exposure happens when asbestos-bearing products are disturbed or damaged, and asbestos fibers are released into the air. These fibers are microscopic (ten times thinner than hair strands), tasteless, odorless, and can hover in the atmosphere for 48 to 72 hours. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant. As such, care has to be taken around any asbestos-based material.
The principal entry mode of asbestos into the body is through inhalation. This is the most dangerous mode, as it causes the majority of malignant asbestos health issues. Other modes include ingestion and lodging of the fibers in the skin.
Dermal exposure (when the asbestos fibers lodge in the skin) leads to non-malignant health issues such as corns and calluses. It is the least common form of exposure today, but it was more prevalent among asbestos workers in the 19th century. Conversely, ingestion of asbestos fibers may occur if someone drinks or swims in contaminated water. However, most water supplies are well below the EPA contamination levels. Therefore, asbestos exposure through drinking water is rare.
Where Does Asbestos Exposure Occur in New York
New York is one of the leading states with the highest asbestos exposure cases, ranking amongst the top five for most asbestos cases filed in America.
New York's high exposure rates are a direct consequence of past heavy asbestos use in its shipyard industry. (The state has one of the largest shipyards in America located in Brooklyn.) Asides from this, many industries used or manufactured asbestos-based materials.
Due to the numerous toxic exposure sites in New York, the federal government has marked several sites in the state as Superfund Sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), informally referred to as Superfund of 1980.
Superfund Sites are areas in the United States marked for clearance and rehabilitation from hazardous pollutants. Some of these areas are being decontaminated by the owners or government while still in use or getting ready for reuse. These places are called the Superfund Reuse Sites under the Superfund Redevelopment program. The EPA has designated 40 such sites scattered around New York. The Superfund Redevelopment program is a concerted effort between the federal, state, and local governments; private organizations; the EPA; and land/property owners to rehabilitate Superfund Sites according to the EPA's handling, removal, and disposal guidelines. These areas need treatment before communities can reclaim or reuse them. Examples of Superfund sites in New York include:
- Center Road Asbestos, Freetown
- Madison Wire Works, West Seneca
- Frankfort Asbestos, Frankfort
- Asbestos, Yonkers
- Herkimer Asbestos Site, Herkimer
Presently, asbestos is not mined or manufactured in New York, and the state strictly regulates current utilization. However, because of the previous widespread use of asbestos in New York, exposure may still occur in these places:
- Structures constructed before 1990
- Industrial regions of Western New York. For example, Buffalo City
- Asbestos deposits and mines (there exist at least 23 of them in New York)
- Shipyards (e.g., Bethlehem Steel Shipyard, Staten Island)
- Military bases (e.g., Brooklyn Naval Shipyard)
- Factories (chemical and power plants, refineries, brewing companies, and metal and wire works industries)
- Classic or antique vehicles with parts fabricated with asbestos materials
- Mountainous areas with naturally formed asbestos
- Historical sites built with or containing products made with asbestos
Asbestos exposure is also possible with domestic or household appliances made with asbestos materials and man-made or natural disasters that may disperse asbestos fibers into the atmosphere (e.g., the bombing of the Twin Towers in Manhattan, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires).
Who is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure in New York?
Many residents in New York are at risk of asbestos exposure owing to the previous use of asbestos in the state. As it stands, every resident should have encountered asbestos fibers. Nonetheless, it is the constant and prolonged exposure to asbestos that poses serious health risks.
Persons who may be prone to hazardous exposures work directly with asbestos or those who continuously encounter asbestos minerals and materials. They include:
- Auto mechanics and aircraft mechanics
- Ground zero first responders (paramedics, law enforcement officers, firefighters, disaster rescue and cleanup workers, emergency medical technicians and volunteers, select military employees and veterans, etc.)
- Factory workers (boilermakers, refinery workers, metal, chemical, power plant, and wire workers)
- Construction workers
- People working, schooling, or living in buildings containing asbestos materials
- Those living near Superfund sites, former asbestos mines, and in communities close to natural asbestos deposits
- Demolition contractors
- Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) workers
- Shipyard workers
How Much Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a lethal tumor that affects the thin tissue layer covering the internal organs (the mesothelium), particularly the lining of the heart, lungs, and stomach.
Constantly breathing in or swallowing asbestos particles can cause them to lodge in the lining of the internal organs, consequently leading to inflammation and scarring. Over time, this can induce serious illnesses like mesothelioma.
Typically, long-term exposure to asbestos fibers is linked to the development of mesothelioma. However, new evidence following the 9/11 attacks places short-term exposure as a significant risk factor. Short-term exposure can become fatal to a person's health if high levels of asbestos particles are inhaled within a few hours or over a few days consecutively.
Researchers are yet to determine the exact amount of asbestos exposure that causes mesothelioma. However, the National Cancer Institute and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) point out the following as contributory factors in developing mesothelioma:
- Dosage: The level of asbestos toxins in the air
- Duration: The rate and length of exposure
- Pre-existing conditions: Health conditions like lung or breathing problems or recently undergoing chemotherapy for any other type of cancer
- Individual risk factors: Age, smoking, and gender
- Genetic factors: For example, a genetic mutation transmitted from a parent to offspring
- Source of exposure and mode of entry
- The shape, chemical component, and size of the asbestos fibers
Asbestos Exposure Symptoms
Persons exposed to asbestos fibers do not typically begin to show symptoms of an illness until 20 to 50 years have passed. Some signs and symptoms could arise ten years after the first exposure. However, these symptoms differ according to the type of asbestos disease or affected organs and may easily be confused with other health issues. Still, the following symptoms are common among persons who inhaled asbestos fibers:
- Emphysematous (shortness of breath, hoarseness, or wheezing)
- Coughing up mucus (usually containing blood)
- Progressively worsening and persistent hacking cough
- Chest pain or tightness
- Pleural plaque
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of body weight
- Dry cracking in the chest when breathing
- Pleural thickening
On the other hand, the following symptoms may appear in those whose internal organs have suffered damage from asbestos fibers:
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of weight
- Clubbed fingers
- Bowel obstructions
- Abdominal and pelvic pain
- Abdominal swelling and expansion
- Swelling of the face or neck
- Problems when swallowing
Asbestos Exposure From Products
Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) were used in construction, insulation, paints, decorations, automobile body parts, and wires. These materials were largely manufactured in America until the infection and death toll became alarming. As a result, the government banned asbestos mining and stepped in to regulate its use, removal, and disposal. (ACM is defined as any material having more than a percentage of asbestos.)
Notwithstanding, the following asbestos products may still present a risk of exposure to individuals:
- Children's toys: Some crayon brands (sold under the names of Mickey Mouse, Power Rangers, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle), modeling clay, toy makeup kits, and toy crime lab kits.
- Automobile parts: This includes transmission plates, brake pads, clutches, gaskets, hood liners, and various engine parts.
- Cosmetics: Asbestos should not be in cosmetics. However, some manufacturers circumvent regulations and incorporate them into products. For example, in talcum-based powder and cosmetic products such as baby powder, finishing and compact powders, blushes, foundations, eye shadows, and creams.
- Insulation products: Boiler insulation, heat shields, furnace insulation, HVAC ductwork insulation, and cooling towers.
- Building materials: Acoustic ceilings, asphalt/vinyl floor tiles, cement wallboard, pipes and siding, drywall and plaster, roof shingles, hot water pipes, asbestos cement, textured paint, etc.
- Home appliances: Fake snow, ashtrays, heaters, refrigerators/freezers, ovens, toasters, clothes dryers, hairdryers, toasters, and hairdryers.
- Asbestos textiles: Ropes, firefighter's suits, aprons, sneakers, filter paper, fire draperies and curtains in theaters, and fire blankets.
Occupational Asbestos Exposure in New York
Occupational asbestos exposure occurs when people encounter asbestos-based products at their workplaces or duty posts. It is the primary source of asbestos exposure and the foremost cause of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Jobs that expose workers to asbestos are called high-risk occupations because workers are at a greater risk of being exposed to and developing asbestos-related diseases. Often, these professions involve the repair, removal, and disposal of asbestos waste or asbestos-related materials.
Although the EPA is innovating new ways to combat the exposure risks from new and old asbestos products, occupational asbestos exposure in New York may still occur in the following places:
- Factories all over New York, e.g., IBM, Alcoa Aluminum
- Numerous sites in Western New York. For example, in the city of Buffalo, where authorities deemed Commodore Perry Homes a high-risk exposure site
- Most historical buildings in Manhattan
- Grand Central Station
- Power plants, e.g., General Electric, Indian Point Energy Center
- Shipyards and military base
- Sites of burning or destroyed buildings
Cities in New York known for having many sites for occupational exposure include Buffalo, Brooklyn, Olean, Endicott, Niagara Falls, Plattsburgh, Rochester, and Schenectady.
Environmental Asbestos Exposure
Environmental asbestos exposure occurs when asbestos fibers pollute the air, waterways, and soil. People living close to a contaminated site or near natural asbestos deposits are more prone to this kind of exposure. The origins of environmental exposure are usually naturally occurring asbestos, former asbestos mines, and natural or man-made disasters.
Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA): In New York, chrysotile (a type of asbestos mineral) lies underground in four different locations: Northern Staten Island; John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan; the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River, Hoboken; and Westchester County. Erosions, other weathering processes, and man-made activities can bring the substance to the surface, causing fibers to spread into the air, water, and soil and poisoning those who come in contact or live and work nearby.
Asbestos Factories and Mines: In 1858, H.W Johns started mining chrysotile from Staten Island to produce fire-resistant shingles. He was not alone, however. With time and considering the profitability of the asbestos industry, many others joined in as well, either by mining raw asbestos, manufacturing asbestos products, or selling the finished materials. At the time, these activities were the main source of exposure to asbestos workers and their families. Today, the sites (the former mines and factories) contribute to environmental exposure to asbestos and can pose dangers to people residing in proximity.
Natural and Man-Made Disasters: As earlier stated, natural or man-made disasters and activities can disturb asbestos materials, causing them to release pollutants (fibers) into the atmosphere. This includes erosion, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, terror attacks, improper demolition and disposal, tornadoes, etc.
Asbestos Exposure by New York County
Considering the leading status New York had in the mining and use of asbestos, the state currently ranks 5th in mesothelioma deaths recorded in the country. It has documented 15,205 asbestos-related deaths from 1999 to 2017.
Particularly, three counties (Erie county, Nassau, and Suffolk) recorded an estimated 1,500 deaths from 1999 to 2017, with almost 75 deaths recorded yearly on average. Meanwhile, counties like Schuyler and Yates recorded 15 deaths in the years under review, with no yearly average.
New York Counties with the Most Naturally Occurring Asbestos
The six types of asbestos are as follows:
- Chrysotile: Also called white asbestos. It is the most popularly used type of asbestos.
- Amosite: A brown-colored mineral known for its high cancer risk
- Crocidolite: Blue colored and brittle
- Tremolite: Found in paints and sealants
- Actinolite: Known for its thermal expansivity, and
- Anthophyllite: A gray-brown mineral found in composite flooring.
These six minerals are broadly classified into two mineral families: amphibole and serpentine. New York has four naturally-occurring serpentine rocks. Also, the state ranks 5th in U.S. states that have an abundance of naturally occurring asbestos.
According to the 2020 census, Staten Island has a population of 495,747. However, millions of years ago, in the Paleozoic Era, a rock formation existed under the island. It is permuted into the present paleozoic serpentine rock formation, which contains lizardite, chrysotile, antigorite, amphibole, anthophyllite, and talc.
The serpentine rock is taking over the rock formation. It is composed of over 50% chrysotile, as tested using a sample obtained from a road cut-out on I-128. The rock occupies a 55 km² area of the island's north-central region, and it rises above sea level at a 135-meter elevation. Given the rock's mass, asbestos fibers can be released continually into the atmosphere with erosion or human activities, exposing citizens to asbestos-related dangers.
Westchester County is centrally placed within the New York metropolis, sharing borders with Putnam County on the north and New York City on the south. It is one of the counties situated within the Hudson River Valley. Its underground rock, at New Rochelle, is made up of serpentine, marble, mica-schist, and gneiss layers. This contributed to the establishment of several asbestos mines in Westchester decades ago.
The serpentine rock in Manhattan is located underneath John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a part of the City University of New York (CUNY).
Hoboken is a part of the New York state metropolis, situated opposite Manhattan on the other side of the Hudson River. Ultramafic rocks and serpentinite containing chrysotile and amphibole minerals reside beneath the shores.
New York Public Buildings with Documented Asbestos
According to Chapter 44, Section 50 of the Consolidated Laws of New York, a public building is any structure (or portion of it) separate from a privately owned residential or public housing facility, constructed wholly or partially with tax funds, municipal funds, or grants and loans under the state law. This building is accessible to the public and is a likely site for theaters, schools, libraries, museums, concert halls, and other establishments.
In the early '80s, asbestos was used in construction to fireproof and strengthen materials such as bricks, fireplaces, cement blocks, concrete, pipes, roofing, and other building components. Therefore, a good number of older public structures contain asbestos.
Presently, there are no records that show all public buildings containing asbestos in New York. Nevertheless, there is an Asbestos Control Bureau under the Department of Labor that oversees the demolition, rehabilitation, and re-modeling of buildings originally constructed with asbestos. At the same time, the Department of Health publishes an online information directory for homeowners, renters, contractors, and workers, which also details the accredited asbestos training providers. This directory helps educate the public about asbestos, including the potential risks of asbestos exposure.
Members of the public searching for information about asbestos on a particular building contact the Department of Health or the Department of Labor. They can also contact the facility manager.
New York Asbestos Mines and Environmental Risks
Research conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey shows that New York had only a few asbestos mines. However, there were 60 such mines located in the Eastern United States, with over 200 natural asbestos occurrences. As of today, asbestos mining is prohibited in the United States (the last mine closed down in 2002), and the use of asbestos for construction is restricted across the United States. Regardless, the presence of these mines is still detrimental to the health and wellbeing of residents and communities in the surrounding area.
Asbestos can remain in the air for a long time and can be dispersed farther by water or wind, contaminating areas far from a mine. This introduces a severe risk to human and animal life. It is advised that residents in these areas manage the risk of exposure as follows:
- Cleaning clothing and shoes that may have been contaminated
- Avoiding drinking from natural water sources around areas contaminated with asbestos
- Using PPE (personal protective equipment) when necessary, and
- Keeping houses closed during demolition work or on windy days.
New York Firefighter Asbestos Exposure
Firefighters face several risks on the job, such as burns, physical injuries, heat exhaustion, and contact with high levels of carbon monoxide. For such professionals, it is impossible to rule out exposure to asbestos and its health downsides, seeing as public buildings and other structures dating back to the '80s were made with the material.
For example, in the case of a fire emergency, asbestos may pollute the air, causing the firefighter on duty to be exposed to the asbestos fibers. Indeed, it may even spread to the firefighter's family and colleagues because their gear (e.g., (personal protective equipment) and hair can carry and transfer asbestos fibers. Asbestos may also lie in walls, roofing materials, fireplaces, bricks, tiling, electric wiring, sealants, and drywall boards at fire stations.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) findings, firefighters have a higher risk of asbestos-related health problems. They are more inclined to develop mesothelioma than the general public.
New York Veterans Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos exposure in military camps in New York and all other branches of the armed forces was previously common in the United States. Military asbestos exposure is the sole cause of lung cancer and mesothelioma (asbestos-related diseases) among veterans today, particularly those in the U.S. Navy. These health risks mostly originated from World War II and other wars.
Asbestos exposure was predominant in the U.S. Navy because the ships were made with asbestos products, which exposed everyone on board. The most affected areas were below deck compartments like the engine room, boiler room storage rooms, sleeping quarters, etc.
Most records show that veterans file most mesothelioma lawsuits in the country. Also, there is a high mesothelioma mortality rate among U.S. navy machinists, boiler technicians, and pipefitters.
Non-cancerous Conditions Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Various health challenges follow asbestos exposure. Some of these illnesses may take many years to develop, depending on the level of exposure, and others may trigger minor symptoms over a shorter period. Non-cancerous health conditions caused by asbestos are not life-threatening, but they may make an individual susceptible to terminal diseases. Below are some non-cancerous conditions caused by the exposure to asbestos:
Pleural plaques are common conditions caused by exposure to asbestos. They are small areas of thickened tissues in the lung lining, which may take 20 to 30 years after continuous exposure to develop. This disease is non-cancerous and may not need treatment, as patients can still live healthy lives without serious health issues. However, it may influence the development of mesothelioma.
Another name for pleural plaques is "hyaline pleural plaques" because they form tissue that looks similar to cartilages. Pleural plaques often grow in the outer membrane of the lung lining attached to the chest wall. In rare cases, pleural plaques can develop in the diaphragm after a person inhales asbestos fibers. The condition is common among automotive workers and construction workers.
Atelectasis is the complete collapse of the whole lobe of the lung area. This condition is a respiratory complication and a possible outcome of asbestos exposure. Although atelectasis is non-cancerous, it may cause cystic fibrosis, lung tumors, chest injuries, and respiratory weakness. Symptoms of the illness include coughing, wheezing, shallow breathing, and difficulty in breathing.
Usually, a little amount of fluid should be present in the pleura. However, inhaling asbestos fibers can create excess fluids between the pleura layers outside the lungs. This condition is referred to as pleural effusions, and sometimes, "water on the lungs". The symptoms of the disease include chest pain, dry cough, and dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing).
Pleural effusions can be treated by thoracoscopic surgery, but it is reliant on other underlying factors. If left to worsen, the condition may lead to a severe cancerous condition or death.
Asbestosis is a critical lung condition caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. If dust can get into the lungs, there is every chance that asbestos fibers come in through that passage. Over time, the presence of these fibers may pose severe threats to a person's health. It may eventually cause scarring in the lungs, fatigue, wheezing, swollen fingertips, and pain in the chest.
Asbestosis is not a cancerous illness, but it may take 20 years or more to detect. Only in rare cases does it result in the loss of life. However, people living with asbestosis are at higher risk of developing pleural diseases and mesothelioma.
There is no cure for asbestosis. Once it develops in the lungs, the effects are irreversible. Nevertheless, treatments like oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and inhalers can be helpful.
Other non-cancerous asbestos-related conditions include:
- Peritoneal effusion (ascites)
- Pericardial effusion
- Blesovsky syndrome (rounded atelectasis)
- Diffuse pleural thickening
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc.
Asbestos Exposure in New York: Who is Responsible and How Do I Prove It?
In New York, most asbestos exposure occurrences are the aftermath of irresponsibility. Employers may use buildings constructed with asbestos-related materials but fail to inform and protect their employees. For example, in December 2011, firefighters in Lackawanna raised the alarm to create awareness after a series of tests confirmed that asbestos building components were present in the firehouse where they worked. Likewise, mining companies may fail to educate residents and employees about the dangers that asbestos fibers constitute. Therefore, firefighters, employees, and other individuals who develop asbestos-related health problems may file petitions for compensation within the court system.
Any victim who wants to win an asbestos case must be able to attribute their exposure to someone's actions. This will require the submission of supporting documentation and evidence. Because of the complexity of asbestos cases, there may be one petitioner suing several defendants. With these cases, it is a brilliant idea to hire an experienced asbestos attorney to handle legal proceedings.
Can Multiple Jobs Be Responsible for Asbestos Exposure in New York?
Yes. Asbestos manufacturers, mining companies, and oil refining establishments were predominant in the late '80s and '90s. Therefore, people who worked at two or more jobs in these companies were vulnerable to asbestos exposure.
Although regulations in the United States have curbed the processing and use of asbestos, former workers in the asbestos industry are still likely to be harmed. People in this category can sue to receive compensation from the liable companies.