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Marcy City Housing Project

History

The Marcy City Housing Projects are a cluster of low income and middle income apartment complexes in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn, New York. They were constructed during the first decade following World War II in response to the influx of people seeking affordable housing in Greater New York. Initially home to mainly former soldiers and their families, Marcy City lost many of these early residents during the suburban migration of the 1950s and 1960s. The tenants today are mainly African American and Hispanic, though recently there have been more Russian immigrants as well.

During the last decade, the Marcy City Housing Projects have gained some notoriety through the work of their most famous former resident, Shawn Carter a.k.a. the rapper Jay-Z. He was born in 1969 and raised in the Marcy City Projects. He often refers to his childhood in his songs and has even filmed several of his videos at the location of his former home.

Asbestos Use at Marcy City Housing Project

Having been built in the 1950s, the Marcy City Housing Projects were undeniably constructed using asbestos containing products. The main concentration of asbestos products appears to be the boiler rooms and piping systems throughout the buildings. Asbestos is a mineral that can cause serious pulmonary diseases if its dust is breathed in, as described below.

From the 1920s through the early 1970s, asbestos was widely used during the construction of boilers and boiler rooms, creating a potential health risk for those who worked on them. Asbestos was a cheap and effective fireproof form of insulation on and around the boilers. Asbestos paper, or blankets, were wrapped around pipes and often applied to the floors and walls to create a completely heat and fire resistant environment. Since it was also pliable, asbestos was utilized as gaskets in order to seal joints and doors.

These boilers often needed maintenance and repair. Boilers have incredible longevity and can oftentimes last upwards of 30 years, though requiring occasional work. The asbestos insulation would fray and crack due to age and even water damage. This insulation would have to be removed and replaced, again putting the workers into a dangerous environment with asbestos dust in the air.

Marcy City Housing Project Workers At Risk for Mesothelioma

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.

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