ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths
Exposure to asbestos in New York gathered attention in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center after experts concluded more than 4,000 tons of dust and debris came from the collapse of the Twin Towers. That dust contained asbestos fibers because the World Trade Center buildings were constructed with asbestos products like insulation. But the state of New York had asbestos issues long before 9/11.
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New York is widely considered the origin of the asbestos industry. A company that became the Johns-Manville Corporation started mining vermiculite for asbestos insulation in 1858. Fast-forward more than a century, and the state now has the fifth-highest number of asbestos-related deaths in the country. Old shipyards – the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the GMD Shipyard and others – are notorious for their asbestos contamination. And vermiculite from a W.R. Grace facility in Weedsport, New York, was shipped to various cities and towns in the state, including New York City, Rochester, Buffalo, Brooklyn and Watertown.
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Most New Yorkers who have mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases were exposed to asbestos while on the job. Shipyard workers, metal workers and power plant workers are among the high-risk professions. Experts are watching to see if they need to expand the list to include first-responders and clean-up personnel from 9/11.
Following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, the New York Department of Health requested air and dust samples from Lower Manhattan. They wanted to know if residents were at an increased danger of being exposed to asbestos-containing materials because of the terrorist attacks. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) collected air and dust samples for five weeks in late 2001, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also monitored air quality in the same area.
Two months after the attacks, low levels of asbestos were found in surface dust in Lower Manhattan. No asbestos was detected in Upper Manhattan. Because of the time lag between the attacks and the air-quality testing, “these results probably underestimate the levels of World Trade Center-related materials that were in Lower Manhattan immediately after” 9/11, the ATSDR’s 2002 report stated.
A 2008 EPA report indicated that few samples contained asbestos and that the ones that did have asbestos were not considered a health threat. However, while marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2011, New Yorkers learned from various media outlets that thousands of 9/11 emergency workers and volunteers are in poor health. Researchers discovered a high proportion of highly alkaline particles from pulverized concrete, asbestos and toxic heavy metals like lead and mercury.
The W.R Grace Company is mostly associated with asbestos exposure in Libby, Montana, but the firm also made an imprint on New York. The ATSDR warned former Zonolite Company/W.R. Grace workers about their increased risk of disease because of work-related asbestos exposure. Former employees are encouraged to have doctors screen them for potential asbestos-related illnesses even though the levels of asbestos exposure are unknown. Company jobsites are closed, and the ATSDR said that any future development of that land may produce more asbestos exposure issues.
Historically, New York has been a leading state for asbestos litigation. Plaintiffs typically file asbestos claims against one or more companies that knew about the potential dangers of asbestos, yet failed to warn workers and consumers. It is not uncommon for a single asbestos case to list dozens of defendants. While some states have enacted legal and medical restrictions on patients or family members who file asbestos lawsuits, lawmakers in New York ramped up regulations and protections from exposure.
New York also enacted a two disease rule that allows plaintiffs who previously filed a claim for a noncancerous asbestos-related disease to file a second lawsuit if they develop cancer at a later date. This is highly beneficial because it may take decades for an asbestos cancer to develop after the initial exposure to asbestos. Another benefit to filing in New York is an expedited trial schedule for asbestos plaintiffs. In other states, the legal process may take so long that patients die of their illness before their case is heard.
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