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Consolidated Edison, Inc.

History

Asbestos Exposure at Consolidated Edison

Consolidated Edison, Inc. (Con-Ed) is one of largest energy companies in the nation. It originated as the New York Gas Light Company in 1823 and has grown considerably over the years. In an effort to stave off competition, the New York Gas Light Company merged with 5 other companies in New York to form the Consolidated Gas Company in 1884. Throughout the following decades it continued to purchase smaller companies, thus growing considerably larger in size as well as profits. In 1936, after acquiring the lighting company started by inventor Thomas Edison, it became Consolidated Edison. In 1999 Con-Ed, in compliance with the New York Public Service Commission, sold several of its greater-New York holdings including the Arthur Kill Powerhouse and the Astoria Powerhouse. They are still a large presence, providing electricity, gas and steam service to more than 3 million people in New York City and Westchester County. In 2002 Con-Ed's assets were at $17 billion and they employed over 14,000 people.

Locations of Con-Ed's New York Holdings:

  • Con-Ed 69th & 3rd Avenue
  • Con-Ed Powerhouse 14th Street
  • Con-Ed Powerhouse 74th Street
  • Con-Ed Powerhouse A Street
  • Con-Ed Powerhouse East 72nd Street
  • Con-Ed Powerhouse East River Generating Station
  • Con-Ed Powerhouse Hellgate Station
  • Con-Ed East 14th Street
  • Con-Ed West 65th Street

Use of Asbestos at Con-Ed's New York Locations

Con-Ed's many holdings throughout New York create and provided heat, electricity, and steam. Since they generated an intense amount of heat, they needed cheap and efficient insulation throughout the years. Until the mid 1970s, the product that was mainly used was asbestos. Exposure to asbestos, especially airborne asbestos dust and particles, put employees at risk for the serious health problems discussed below. There were miles of pipes necessary for energy production that were insulated with asbestos, as well as boilers, pumps, heaters, condensers, turbine generators and other equipment that also used asbestos products and insulation. Asbestos tile and paper were also used to create 'fire-proof' environments in the boiler-rooms. Fire-proofing asbestos spray was also applied to certain areas, again creating a hazardous work environment. The boilers that were used were from Babcock-Wilcox, as well as Foster-Wheeler, among others.

Size limitations often forced workers to cut and shape the asbestos products. Asbestos paper and the pipe insulation and filler products often needed to be sanded down depending on the situation. These processes caused asbestos dust to be released into the air. Gaskets were either made with asbestos, or made out of asbestos. Since it is difficult to create a perfect gasket, a worker would have to grind it or sand it down, throwing more dangerous asbestos dust in the air.

Even if one was not in direct contact with asbestos they were at risk because it was present throughout the facility. As asbestos insulation was applied, maintained and repaired it often put dust particles in the air that could have been inhaled by anyone. The excessive amount of building works, repairs, and maintenance that occurred in the Con-Ed facilities put every employee at risk, as well as family members who were exposed to the dust on their loved ones clothing.

Consolidated Edison Workers At Risk for Mesothelioma and Other Asbestos Diseases

By the mid 1970s, strong evidence was uncovered regarding the health dangers associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos. Many who had worked with asbestos for extended periods of time were coming down with pulmonary diseases (such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis) from breathing asbestos dust.

The asbestos related diseases include:

  • Mesothelioma: a type of cancer only caused by asbestos exposure that attacks the lining around the lungs and/or heart and/or abdomen. This cancer is not in the organs themselves, though untreated it will spread. The most common form is pleural mesothelioma (lung lining), then peritoneal mesothelioma (stomach lining), and then pericardial mesothelioma (heart lining).

  • Asbestos Related Lung Cancer: while lung cancer can come from numerous sources, asbestos exposure can lead to the formation of a malignant tumor that blocks the air passages (common for smokers who were exposed to asbestos).

  • Asbestosis: a pulmonary condition, only caused by exposure to asbestos, where scar tissue builds up in the lungs causing breathing problems and low blood flow.

The diseases associated with asbestos are similar in that their symptoms often do not appear for many years after exposure. It is not uncommon for someone to develop lung cancer after a 10 year lag between onset and initial exposure. Mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis often do not become apparent for 30 to 40 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. Common symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pains, a dry hacking cough that sometimes contains blood.

The health problems associated with asbestos were not just isolated to people who worked directly with the product. The asbestos dust would spread easily through the air putting workers who never used it at risk. Family members were also at risk because workers would return home with the dust on their clothes, shoes and even hair.

There are different treatments available for patients suffering asbestos related cancers and diseases. These include, but are not limited to: chemotherapy and certain medications including Lovastatin which can be used as an antineoplastic agent preventing the growth of certain cancerous tumors, and Alimta® (also called Pemetrexed) which has been approved by the F.D.A. as a mesothelioma treatment.

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