A slumping National Hockey League team is the least of concerns at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island, N.Y.
It’s a lot more serious now.
More than 100 plaintiffs are banding together for a class-action lawsuit that claims coliseum managers failed to protect workers and patrons from long-term exposure to asbestos at the venue, according to various published reports. The claims will ask for $1 billion in compensation.
Newsday is reporting that 140 people have filed notices of claim, a precursor to filing the lawsuit, against Nassau County, the facility’s owner; SMG, the facility manager; and the New York Islanders, the venue’s primary tenant.
An exposure to asbestos can lead to a variety of respiratory illnesses, including forms of mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. There is no cure for mesothelioma.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last fall cited the coliseum for 16 alleged violations of workplace safety standards. OSHA’s inspection stemmed from a coliseum employee complaint earlier in the year.
OSHA’s proposed fines of $88,000 for the violations. According to its findings, the building’s maintenance workers and also its electricians were exposed to asbestos. Those exposures occurred in in several areas of the facility.
Coliseum managers did not take necessary steps to make sure workers could avoid the hazards, OSHA said.
Occupational Safety and Health Findings
“Inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to lung disease and cancer,” said Anthony Ciuffo, OSHA’s Long Island area director, in a news release. “It’s imperative this employer take effective action to identify and minimize asbestos hazards and ensure that workers are protected.”
Likely plaintiffs in the initial claims include current and former employees — both full-time and contract — of the facility. They include both full time and contract employees. Many have become seriously ill.
Among the workers who filed notice of claims are carpenters, plumbers and mechanics along with a widow of a heating and air conditioning technician who filed a wrongful death suit.
In court documents, Dell said that asbestos was found in several areas of the Coliseum, including the loading dock, seating areas and concession areas.
Although OSHA confirmed that workers were exposed, the report said that the general public was not at risk because the asbestos was contained to areas not accessible to guests
“I have clients who have lung cancer. I have clients who have just the fear,” attorney Joseph Dell told CBS Ch. 2 in New York. “Their fear is the dry cough turns out to be lung cancer from exposure that they’ve had to asbestos. I represent individuals who have mesothelioma and lung cancer and are at home on oxygen. They’re very worried not only about their own safety but everyone’s safety.”
Nassau Coliseum was built in 1972 at the height of the construction industry’s infatuation with asbestos, which was used in both commercial and residential building as an insulator from heat and fire.
Coliseum Home to Family Entertainment
The coliseum is home to the NHL’s Islanders, who four-time Stanley Cup Champions (1980-83). Since its opening, the venue has hosted the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus annually along with most every major concert/entertainment event that has toured the country.
Like many other well-used sports and concert venues of that age, the coliseum grew outdated and worn, which sparked various renovations. Those updates exposed unprotected workers to asbestos fibers.
The coliseum was closed for a short time last season after the asbestos was discovered, forcing the Islanders to move a few home games to another venue. The team and the coliseum management company have said the facility is safe for guests.
The Islanders are scheduled to begin playing in Brooklyn at the new Barclays Center in 2015.
According to another report earlier this month in Newsday, the Islanders and the management company still owe Nassau County more than $3 million in unpaid rent, utilities and other expenses dating back to 2011.
County executive Ed Mangano told the spaper he long has stressed the need for a new sports entertainment venue in Nassau County: “The Coliseum is the oldest, unrenovated facility in the NHL.”