New York City’s recognizable skyline is symbolic of America’s economic, cultural, and industrial might over the past century. Its monumental skyscrapers are spires of steel, glass, and concrete. Yet, the less glamorous industrial areas of the five boroughs are also landmarks of the city’s growth from a small Dutch settlement on Manhattan Island into a thriving metropolis of eight million inhabitants and one of the world’s great cities. Beneath the façade of glamour and power, however, there is a hidden danger: many of the buildings and industries that give New York City its distinctiveness contain large amounts of asbestos.
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New York City, Asbestos, and Mesothelioma
New York City has long been one of the nation’s vital hubs for transportation and industrial activity. Its big natural harbor is one of the largest in the world, and since the 19th Century, its linkage to canals and railroads makes New York a key gateway for America’s international trade. The port’s facilities include wharves, dockyards, shipyards, repair shops and passenger terminals. Many of these areas were built as early as the 19th Century and contain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs)
New York is considered to be the origin point of America’s long relationship with large scale asbestos use by heavy industry. H.W. Jones Company, the forerunner to the Denver-based Johns-Manville Company, was originally a New York City manufacturer of fire-resistant roof tiles. Starting in the late 1850s, H.W. Jones mined large amounts of asbestos in nearby quarries and prospered when the mineral’s use was adopted by other companies.
In addition to the asbestos located in the five boroughs, New York City’s sea and land connections made it a convenient transit point from the east coast to the rest of the country with millions of tons of asbestos, including large amounts mined by W.R. Grace in Montana and other states, passing through New York for over a century.
Furthermore, on September 11, 2001, after the World Trade Center fell, an explosion of asbestos fibers permeated the air, along with other toxins, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The construction of the World Trade Center towers began in the 1960s, a time when asbestos was still heavily used for insulation and in building supplies. According to engineers, the first lower 40 floors on each tower were laden with asbestos. With a looming ban on the mineral, however, the upper floors of the towers were asbestos-free as workers were ordered to stop using it. Yet, tons of asbestos hit the air after September 11, and many cases of asbestos-related illnesses have already been reported.
New York City Industries Known to Have Used Asbestos
Though the city is known primarily for its global roles in finance and mass media, New York City’s economy includes a thriving industrial sector. In the five-borough area of The Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, Manhattan, and Queens, there are 10,000 industrial businesses with 233,000 associated jobs. Chemicals, furniture, garments, metals, and processed foods are New York’s main manufactured products.
Asbestos was widely used in many American industries until the late 1970s. However, in the late 1970s, the EPA first officially reported the connection between exposure to asbestos fibers and serious illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and malignant mesothelioma.
Though British medical records dating as far back as the 1890s had tenuously made such a connection, the powerful asbestos industry managed to suppress any data suggesting that its product was dangerous. Asbestos’ abilities to resist high temperatures, withstand chemical reactions, retard fire, and to not conduct electricity were too desirable in modern industry.
Asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used in almost every type of industry needed to modernize Western civilization. Construction, energy extraction, steel and iron manufacturing, and even power generating businesses became asbestos’ biggest buyers. The shipping industry and, later, the military services, jumped on the asbestos bandwagon.
New York City thus became one of the focal points of the asbestos and mesothelioma problem which surfaced in the latter half of the 20th Century. It had factories. It had railroad yards. It had power plants, chemical plants, garment factories, food processing facilities, and thousands of warehouses. It had both civilian and U.S. Navy shipyards within its boundaries. Its towering skyscrapers, including the now-destroyed World Trade Centers, were built with millions of tons of ACMs incorporated into their structures.
Established in 1905 as a boilermaker company, Burnham Holdings went on to manufacture HVAC products and become the parent company of 13 subsidiaries.
Burnham Commercial was founded by Frederick A. Lord, a greenhouse manufacturer, and was first named “Lord’s Horticultural Manufacturing Company.” In 1872, William Burnham, one of Lord’s sons-in-laws, joined his father-in-law in the company and began creating greenhouses for residential estates in the upstate portion of New York. By 1914, the Lord & Burnham Company created greenhouse manufacturing plants in two other locations: Des Plaines, Illinois, and Ontario, Canada.
In 1917, the company purchased the Geneva Boiler Works and began manufacturing and selling boilers. In 1919, the company was changed to Burnham Boiler Company. Once it was established, Burnham Boiler Company took over began t the boiler business from Lord & Burnham Company, along with all of it its affiliated companies. Afterward, the company was renamed again to Burnham Corporation. Today, it’s known as Burnham Commercial or Burnham LLC.
Currently, Burnham Commercial, still in business produces boilers for commercial and industrial applications. However, in recent years, asbestos-related lawsuits have been filed by many workers who faced daily asbestos exposure at the Burnham Commercial facilities.
For example, in 2013, a New York jury awarded $190 million in a lawsuit against Burnham Commercial after five workers were exposed to asbestos while working in the plumbing, steamfitting and construction industries areas of the company. All five plaintiffs developed mesothelioma.
Although it is still one of the largest verdicts in asbestos lawsuits in New York, only two of the five plaintiffs were alive to hear to verdict.
In total, Burnham’s financial obligations towards plaintiffs reached over $40 million. Yet, unlike most companies that manufactured asbestos- products, Burnham Commercial has never created an abestos trust fund. Instead, they continue to continue to defend their actions each time a lawsuit is brought against them.
Burnham Commercial manufactured and produced a number of asbestos-containing products and materials, including:
- Fire-retardant bricks
- Pipe insulation
Burnam Holdings locations include:
- Bryan Steam LLC, Peru, Ind.
- Burnham Casualty Insurance Co., Burlington, Vt.
- Burnham Commercial, Lancaster, Penn.
- Burnham Financial LLC, Wilmington, Del.
- Burnham Services Inc., Wilmington, Del.
- Casting Solutions LLC, Zanesville, Ohio
- Crown Boiler Co., Philadelphia, Penn.
- Governale Company Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Lancaster Metal Manufacturing Inc., Lancaster, Penn.
- New Yorker Boiler Company Inc., Hatfield, Penn.
- Norwood Manufacturing Inc., Norwood, N.C.
- Thermal Solutions Products LLC,Lancaster, Penn.
- Thermo Products LLC,North Judson, Ind., and Denton, N.C.
- U.S. Boiler Company Inc., Lancaster, Penn.
Brooklyn Navy Yard
The Brooklyn Navy Yard was first known as the New York Navy Yard after its establishment in the 1700s. The shipyard’s history continued to truly develop when it set The Fulton to sea in 1837, first United States steam warship. Following The Fulton, Niagra was then launched, a steam frigate that laid the first Transatlantic cable. Yet, in the 1920s, the New York Navy Yard, similar to many other shipyards during this time, began suffering from lack of business. The Merchant Marine Act of 1936 made the business even worse.
Yet in the late 1930s, the business began to boom again and the shipyard became the leading battleship construction shipyard in the United States. Consequently, the Brooklyn Navy Yard went on to become one of the largest employers in the Northeast for both men and women.
Throughout most of World War II, the Brooklyn Navy Yard repaired ships and focused on conversions. It also gained experience in building coal, on freight liners, and on barges. Yet, even with a plethora of highlights, the Brooklyn Navy Yard could not keep its success going as it did during WWII, and by 1966, after a large fire that swept through the yard, Brooklyn Navy Yard closed down.
Prior to its closing, a mass amounts of people had already been exposed to asbestos while working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Asbestos was literally, everywhere, littering clothing, equipment, machinery, and more. Even an onsite pipe shop used asbestos in the fiberglass lagging cloths that were manufactured.
As more and more workers became ill, BNY began adding several items to a list of safety products intended for use while at work. Along with goggles and exhaust fans in an attempt to reduce asbestos fibers, BNY also provided:
- Hand-shields for welding and cutting
- Fire-emergency hoods
- Fire-emergency hoses
- Dust respirators
- Paint spraying respirators
In 1940, after many health complaints, a medical officer assigned to the shipyard to help promote safety. Shortly after, a report was issued with a list of medical recommendations that the workers should go by, as followed by the standards of the United States Public Health Service, denoting that all workers should go through regular chest X-rays and complete blood analysis tests.
Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden as we know it day was constructed and opened in 1968. During the 1960s and into the 1970s, as with many other companies constructing buildings and structures, Madison Square Garden was built using a multitude of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
ACMs were heavily used during the construction of Madison Square Garden, primarily for insulation in the piping systems responsible for providing heat, hot water, and steam. The decades following the awareness of the dangers of asbestos were marked by serious efforts to remove ACMs. Yet, without the proper procedures when removing asbestos, workers face exposure when trying to remove it. In fact, improper removal procedures have resulted in a number of workers in Madison Square Garden being placed directly into harm via an environment that wasn’t properly protected.
In 2010, an NBA basketball game scheduled at Madison Square Garden was canceled after reports that asbestos had fallen from the rafters in the arena. A New York City Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson reported that the arena’s air-conditioning monitoring system detected asbestos in the air, but fortunately it turned out to be only a scare.
Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Similar to the Madison Square Garden, the Nassau Veterans Coliseum was built during a time in which asbestos was being heavily used all over the nation. Nassau Coliseum, located in Long Island, was built with a myriad of ACMS. Asbestos was also used in pipes, flooring, tiles, and more. Yet, unlike Madison Square Garden, the coliseum was never renovated and it never went through asbestos abatement.
In 2012, over 75 employees at Nassau filed a lawsuit after claiming that the asbestos inside the building has made their workplace an unsafe environment. As a result, the New York Department of Labor started an investigation into the claims.
“The whole place is covered with it (asbestos). “The county is responsible for keeping Nassau Coliseum safe, but it never renovated it, or did an asbestos abatement,” the plaintiff’s attorney said.
Although county investigators reported that the coliseum was safe, lab tests confirmed that asbestos was found in several sections of the seating, on the catwalk, and throughout hallways.
Over 1,000 people have been employed at Nassau since its opening in 1972. Unfortunately, the majority of these people are at a heightened risk of developing an asbestos illness.
If you or a loved one worked at Nassau, it’s recommended to get routine medical check-ups, including complete blood analysis and chest X-rays.
New York City Occupations at High Risks
As a result of large-scale use of asbestos during the modernization of the city and the large naval buildup caused by World War II, many New York City workers and residents were exposed to asbestos fibers while at work. High-risk workers who are more likely to have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos include:
- Power plant workers
- Shipyard workers
- Workers in metal factories and steel mills
- Factory employees, especially those assigned to high-heat sections
- Railroad yard workers
- Sailors and officers in civilian and military vessels
Though there are no figures specifically cited for the entire New York City area, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) ranked Queens County as one of the top 10 counties in asbestos-related deaths. The EWG’s findings, published in 2004, estimated that between 1979 and 2001, an estimated 490 persons died of asbestos-related illnesses. 62 died from asbestosis, with mesothelioma cases accounting for between 228 to 429 deaths in the borough.
Additional Businesses in Buildings Associated with Asbestos in NYC
Schools and Hospitals
- Andrew Jackson High School
- Cathedral High School
- Manhattan Day School
- Bronx Community College
- Columbia College
- Cornell Medical College
- Teachers College- Columbia University
- Fordham University
- New York University
- Bellevue Hospital Center
- Beth Israel Hospital
- Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center
- Elmhurst Hospital Center
- New York Presbyterian Hospital
- Coney Island Hospital
- Flower Hospital
- Fordham University
- Harlem Hospital Center
- St Luke’s Hospital
- St. Barnabas Hospital
- St. Mark’s Hospital
- St. Vincent Hospital of City of New York
- Ambassador Construction
- Chemical Construction Corporation
- Hedden Construction Company
- Lord Construction Company
- O’Rourke Engineering and Construction Company
- Oxnard Construction Company
- Sigmund Sommers Construction
Electric and Gas Companies
- General Electric
- Inland Electric
- North River Electric Light and Power Company
- Queens Borough Gas and Electric Company
- Trinidad Electric Company
- United Electric Light & Power Company
- Western Electric Company
- Westinghouse Electric International Company
Apartments and Hotels
- Americana Hotel
- Belmont Hotel
- Coleman Hotel
- Dryden Hotel
- Empire Hotel
- Herald Square Hotel
- Hilton Hotel
- Waldorf Astoria
- Irving Hotel
- The Manhattan at Times Square
- Martha Washington Hotel
- The Ritz-Carlton
- The St. Regis New York
- Sturtevant Hotel
- Central Park Apartments
- The Dakota
- Langham Apartments
- Montana Apartments
- New Astor Apartments
- Windermere House Apartments
Additional Companies and Buildings
- American Stock Exchange
- American Axe and Tool Company
- American Agricultural Chemical Company
- Anderson Bath Building
- Arctic Hygera Ice Manufacturing Company
- Armstrong Contracting & Supply Corporation
- Arctic Hygiene Ice Manufacturing Company
- Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company
- Baker Smith and Company
- Bank of Manhattan-Union Square Branch
- Bankers Trust Company Building
- Barber Asphalt Paving Company
- Barrett Manufacturing Company
- Beardslee Nickel and Manufacturing Company
- Beckett and Mcdowell Manufacturing Company
- Bordens Condensed Milk Company
- Bowery Savings Bank Building
- Budge Wood Laundry Service Inc.
- Carbondale Machine Company
- Caronet Phosphate Company
- D. L. and W. Railroad Company
- Empire Mutual Insurance Building
- F.M. Schaeffer Brewing Company
- Fajardo Sugar Company
- First National City Bank Building
- Fleischmann Manufacturing Company
- Greene Consolidated Gold Company
Getting Medical Help in New York City
It’s always recommended that cancer patients find a physician and care center that’s well-known for its advanced technology for mesothelioma treatment. Fortunately, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) makes this process easier for patients by appointing and recommending the high-quality cancer centers.
The Albert Einstein Cancer Center (AECC), in the Bronx, is an NCI-designated care center. AECC received an NCI-designation in 1972 and has since expanded to include several cancer research programs, state-of-the-art cancer treatment technology, and much more. Furthermore, many physicians at AECC have in-depth knowledge of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Albert Einstein Cancer Center
Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University
Jack and Pearl Resnick Campus
1300 Morris Park Avenue
Bronx, NY 10461
Additional cancer care medical centers in the New York City area include:
NYU Langone Medical Center
550 First Avenue
New York, NY 10016
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
1275 York Avenue
New York, NY 10065
Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Care Center
701 West 168th Street
New York, NY 10032
NY Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center
622 West 168th Street
New York, NY 10032
Getting Legal Help for Mesothelioma in New York City
If you or a loved one have been a victim to mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer, remember that you may qualify for significant compensation. Don’t forget to fill out our form to get our free Financial Compensation Packet, filled with information on the leading asbestos and mesothelioma attorneys in your area.
Page Reviewed and Edited by New York Mesothelioma Lawyer Joseph W. Belluck
Joseph W. Belluck is a founding member of the New York mesothelioma law firm Belluck & Fox, LLP. He graduated magna cum laude from SUNY Buffalo School of Law and has since spent more than 20 years advocating on behalf of victims of asbestos diseases. His work has included more than $1 billion in settlements for victims. He is also deeply involved in public service and philanthropy, serving on advisory boards, state commissions, and groups dedicated to helping children in foster care.