Asbestos in New York

new york

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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Mesothelioma and Asbestosis Deaths, 1999-2013

  • 2,080 mesothelioma deaths
  • 326 asbestosis deaths
  • 2,406 total deaths

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Occupational and Environmental Areas at Risk

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.

Jobsites with Known Asbestos Exposure:

  • Brooklyn Navy Yard
  • GMD Shipyard
  • Caddell Dry Dock
  • Todd Shipyards in Brooklyn
  • Alcoa Aluminum
  • Charles Poletti Power Project
  • Astoria Powerhouse
  • Indian Point Station
  • Arthur Kill Powerhouse
  • Hudson Avenue Generation Station
  • Other Con-Ed Powerhouses

Asbestos and 9/11

World Trade Center Collapse & Asbestos Exposure

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.

W.R. Grace

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.

Asbestos Litigation in New York

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.

Additional Resources

  1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (2009). Fact Sheet: Weedsport, NY. Retrieved from:
  2. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). (2002). World Trade Center: Fact Sheet. Retrieved from:
  3. Cook, Gareth and Robertson, Tatsha. (2001). Asbestos Dust Poses Threat to Rescue Crews. The Boston Globe, September 14, 2001. Retrieved from:
  4. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2. (2008) EPA Response to September 11. Lower Manhattan Test and Clean Program. New York City Response and Recovery Operations. November. Retrieved from:
  5. Hull, Mindy J., Abraham, Jerrold, L. and Case, Bruce W. (2002). Mesothelioma Among Workers in Asbestiform Fiber-bearing Talk Mines in New York State. Annals of Occupational Hygiene, Vol. 46., Supplement 1. Retrieved from:
  6. Shukman, David. (2011). Toxic Dust Legacy of 9/11 Plagues Thousands of People. BBC News. September 1, 2011. Retrieved from:
  7. Van Gosen, Bradley S. (2006). Reported Historic Asbestos Mines, Historic Asbestos Prospects, and Natural Asbestos Occurrences in the Eastern United States. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved from:
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. (2011). Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2008 [Data file]. Retrieved from CDC WONDER Online Database:
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. (2015, January). Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2013 on CDC WONDER Online Database. Retrieved from
  10. Carroll, S. et al. (2002). Asbestos Litigation Costs and Compensation: An Interim Report. RAND Institute for Civil Justice. Retrieved from</a>

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