The New York Islanders of the National Hockey League could be moving — at least temporarily — to a new home next season because of the lingering asbestos problems at their aging Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The New York Department of Labor began an investigation of the Coliseum in Long Island March 30 after more than 75 workers there filed a lawsuit, claiming asbestos in the building made for unsafe working conditions.
“The whole place is covered with it (asbestos),” plaintiff attorney Joseph Dell told The Brooklyn Paper. “The county is responsible for keeping Nassau Coliseum safe, but it never renovated it, or did an asbestos abatement.”
Exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, can cause a variety of serious respiratory health problems, including mesothelioma cancer.
The Nassau Coliseum was built in 1972, at the height of America’s infatuation with asbestos, which was used in thousands of products, including all kinds of commercial and residential construction.
The Islanders finished their season last week at the coliseum. They did not qualify for the playoffs and won’t play again until early next fall. If the asbestos abatement process goes beyond the summer, or if the asbestos problem is deemed too severe, the Islanders likely will move into nearby Brooklyn, in the soon-to-be-finished Barclays Center.
It won’t be the first time that the presence of asbestos caused a problem for a professional sports team. Because of asbestos falling from the ceiling at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a basketball game last season between the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic had to be postponed, just several hours before it was scheduled to start.
The Barclays Center already is scheduled to become the new home of the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association. Although it is configured to seat more than 18,000 for basketball, it would hold considerably fewer people for hockey because of the way it was built. The Islanders already were scheduled to play one exhibition there.
Nassau County officials, who are part of the lawsuit, have told The Brooklyn Paper that only small amounts of asbestos were found in their inspection and all were in areas that are off-limits to the general public.
County investigators also said that the building was safe, although lab tests, according to The Brooklyn Paper, showed asbestos exposure in hallways, catwalks and several seating sections.
The Islanders have been seeking a new arena on Long Island for several years, but voters have rejected the idea of funding one with public money.
More than 1,000 people have worked at the Nassau Coliseum since it opened. The team’s current lease there expires in 2015.
Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner last month told media members that he would welcome the chance to host an NHL team. Despite the uncertainty, the Islanders already are selling season tickets for next season with the Nassau Coliseum seating chart.
Experts have said that no amount of asbestos in the air is considered safe. Although it was once admired for its heat resistance, durability and affordability, the dangers of asbestos became clear in the 70s and its use dropped dramatically.