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JFK Airport

History

Asbestos Exposure at JFK Airport

During the early part of the twentieth century, New York City rapidly grew into the megalopolis that it is now today. This urban sprawl contained an ever increasing population and it truly became one of the most important cities on the eastern seaboard. Coincidentally, as the city grew, major advances were made in the field of aviation and air travel. New York's LaGuardia Airport opened to commercial traffic in 1939, but soon it could not accommodate the city's needs. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia argued that the city needed another, larger airport. On Jamaica Bay in southeastern Queens, construction began on a new airport that was located on 1,000 acres that were formerly the Idlewild Golf Course. Originally called Idlewild Airport, it was formerly dedicated as New York International Airport on July 31, 1948. The airport rapidly grew as advances were made in aviation and air travel throughout the 1950s. As a tribute to the late president, the airport was re-dedicated as John F. Kennedy International Airport in December of 1963 (commonly referred to as "JFK"). From that initial size of 1,000 acres, the airport has grown to over 5,000 acres today.

JFK International Airport is now one of the busiest commercial airports in the world. It is one of the major hubs for all of the USA's international passengers, and now averages over 31 million passengers a year. It was the US hub for the super-sonic Concorde that flew from 1975 to 2002. It was also the site of the famous arrival of the Beatles in 1964 as well as the airport that the ill-fated TWA Flight 800 took off from in 1998.

JFK employs over 35,000 employees and contains nine passenger terminals. It is constantly expanding and improving, having completed a light rail transit system that now connects the airport to the mass transit systems of Greater New York. A new passenger facility is also planned now that JetBlue Airways has made JFK their hub.

Asbestos Use at JFK Airport

JFK International Airport has a power plant on site, as well as generators and other equipment providing heat, energy and power to the airport. The power plant was constructed using asbestos products. There were miles of pipes necessary for steam production that were insulated with asbestos, as well as boilers, pumps, heaters, condensers, turbine generators and other equipment throughout the airport 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 power plant and the boiler rooms were not the only areas that contained hazardous asbestos. Throughout the early years of the airport, many other products used during construction contained asbestos. These included, but are not limited to: siding panels, stucco, asbestos floor and ceiling tiles, plaster and drywall jointing material, insulation, spackling compounds, fire dampers and fire blankets.

Most of the initial construction of JFK International Airport occurred during the decades when asbestos was an accepted product that's dangers were as yet unknown to the public. As a result, it was used in construction of many of the original buildings. Asbestos is only hazardous if it is airborne and subsequently inhaled. As JFK International Airport grew, these buildings were renovated or even razed in favor of newer, more practical buildings. It is unknown how much asbestos dust was in fact inhaled by workers throughout the years, but there was undoubtedly exposure.

JFK Power Plant 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 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 chest pains, difficulty breathing, 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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