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Co-op City


Asbestos Exposure at Co-op City in the Bronx

Co-op City is the largest single residential development in the United States. It is located in the Bronx borough of New York, at the intersection of Interstate 95 and the Hutchinson River Parkway. Formerly the site of the "Freedomland" amusement park, Co-op City was opened in 1969, completed in 1971 and now contains 15,372 residential units, 35 high rise buildings and 7 clusters of townhouses, home to over 50,000 people. Most of these residents are middle-income and from mixed backgrounds creating a diverse environment. In recent years there has even been a surge in Russian immigrants who now reside in Co-op City. However, the complex is in a dire financial situation and in desperate need of repairs. There are structural problems with many buildings and many different needed renovations. The repair bill, once finished, will likely top $500 million.

All the buildings in Co-op City get their steam, heat, and electricity through a power plant that is located within the complex at 98 Co-op City Boulevard. The power plant went into operation in 1968, just prior to the opening of the first residential units. It contains three large scale Riley Stoker Boilers and an immense system of pipes that transport the needed energy to the other buildings.

Types of Asbestos Products Used at Co-op City

asbestos, the cheap mineral commonly used for insulation and fire-proofing, was used throughout the twentieth century. It was not until the mid 1970s that the health problems associated with the product became known. Co-op City was constructed during the final decade of widespread asbestos usage. Asbestos was often used mixed with other compounds to create strong, fire-proof tiles that were used during construction projects. The extent of asbestos usage in the residential buildings in Co-op City is unknown, but there are potential risks now because of the proposed renovations. The workers and residents will have to take precautions to protect themselves from possible exposure to hazardous asbestos dust.

The main concentration of asbestos is the power plant. During the time of construction, power plants in New York, and across the country, utilized asbestos as insulation for boilers and piping systems, thus creating a potentially dangerous work environment for the employees. 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.

Due to size limitations, the asbestos products would need to be altered and fitted to specific projects. Asbestos paper would need to be cut, and the pipe insulation and filler products often needed to be sanded down depending on the situation, throwing asbestos dust 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, getting more asbestos dust in the air.

Many employees who never worked directly with asbestos products were still 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 Co-op City power plant put every employee at risk.

Co-op City Contract 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.

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