Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station is one of the most recognizable buildings in the United States. Officially named Grand Central Terminal, the Midtown Manhattan station is the biggest train station in the world, boasting 44 platforms and 67 tracks.

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It was built by the New York Central Rail Road and originally opened in 1871 as Grand Central Depot. The depot was torn down in the early 1900s and the present station was built in its place.

Though it has undergone many changes, Grand Central Station was most substantially restored in a project ending in 1998. Today, it is owned and operated by Metro-North, a division of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Grand Central did exceptionally well in the early 20th century, after it was rebuilt. Its prosperity declined after World War II, when the culture of suburbs and cars minimized the need for railroads. Profits declined so drastically that in 1954, plans were made to demolish the station. This plan was never enacted, and Grand Central was eventually declared a landmark.

Grand Central Station and Asbestos

Grand Central Station

Asbestos was used extensively in Grand Central Station to insulate pipes. The material was so widespread in the underground tunnels that the pipefitters would emerge covered with white dust. This earned them the nickname, “the snowmen of Grand Central.”

Since the 1970s, it has been publicly known that asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. It wasn’t until 1987, however, that Grand Central pipefitters were told of their exposure. Then, employees were given respirators and plastic bags. The respirators were often ill-fitting and ineffective. The plastic bags, meant to contain asbestos materials, often melted in the heat of the tunnels and spilled asbestos.

New Yorkers were reminded of the underground asbestos in 2007 when a steam pipe exploded. The explosion broke through the asphalt above it and left a giant hole in the street. It sent out water and debris, including a significant amount of asbestos. Eight air samples were tested and found to contain no asbestos. It is believed that all the fibers were substantially wetted by the steam, preventing them from becoming airborne.

Six of 10 debris samples, however, were found to contain the deadly substance. Those who may have come into contact with the debris were advised to shower immediately and dispose of or thoroughly clean their clothing. Crews worked to repair the damage as quickly as possible.

Grand Central Station and Litigation

The prevalence of asbestos in Grand Central Terminal has led to many lawsuits against Metro-North. One suit was brought by Michael Buckley in 1997, who worked as a pipefitter in Grand Central tunnels. He and his co-workers dealt with pipe insulation and were neither informed of nor protected from asbestos until 1987, when minimal safety procedures were enacted.

It was determined that Metro-North had seriously neglected workers’ health and safety. At the time of the hearing, Buckley did not have any health conditions relating to his asbestos exposure. He was awarded compensation meant to cover future medical monitoring costs.

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Additional Resources

  1. Cable News Network (CNN), http://articles.cnn.com/2007-07-19/us/new.york.explosion_1_steam-pipe-asbestos-threat-conditioners?_s=PM:US
  2. Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-320.ZX.html
  3. Grand Central Terminal, http://www.grandcentralterminal.com/info/grandcentralstation.cfm
  4. Bruce, W., Robinson, A., & Philippe Chahinian. "Mesothelioma". Informa Health Care, 2002. (ISBN 9058231801).
  5. National Public Radio (NPR), http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12093629
  6. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/grand-central-station/

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