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Grand Central Station

History

Asbestos Exposure at Grand Central

Grand Central Station is located in the heart of Manhattan, serving as the gateway for railway passengers into New York City. Initially, the railroad came to New York in 1831 when stream locomotives were still a new product. The first 'Grand Central' was built by Commodore Vanderbilt in 1871, but was eventually closed due to accidents caused by low visibility associated with the amount of smoke produced by the steam engines. At the turn of the twentieth century, New York officials decided they needed a large hub that could accommodate the new electric powered locomotives. Since the electric powered engines did not produce the enormous amount of smoke in comparison with earlier steam engines, it was decided that most of the track would be constructed underground, thus allowing for construction above the new station. The new Grand Central Terminal (often referred to as Grand Central Station) was to be located between 42nd and 46th streets in Manhattan. Construction began in 1903 and was completed in 1913. Other famous landmarks were built around the new Grand Central in later years including the Chrysler Building and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

After World War II, with many families moving to the suburbs and purchasing more and more automobiles, the state of Grand Central declined. There were proposals to raze the famous Terminal in order to make way for development. However, in 1967 New York City's Landmark Preservation Committee established Grand Central's landmark status, thus saving it from destruction. After years of legal haggling, the Supreme Court upheld New York City's landmark decision in 1978.

In 1983 Metro-North purchased Grand Central Terminal and began a long process of restoration throughout the 80s and 90s. The work was finally complete in 1998, bringing Grand Central back to its 1913 splendor. Today Grand Central Terminal has evolved to include several stores, restaurants, and it even hosts gala events while still serving as the main railway station in Greater New York. In fact, over 400,000 commuters pass through Grand Central each day.

Grand Central Station Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Throughout the twentieth century, one of the minerals used in insulation products was asbestos. It is now known that asbestos is extremely hazardous and can cause major health problems if one is exposed. Grand Central Terminal was such a large and prominent building used by countless people, that it required a great deal of heat and electricity. Many areas in the terminal including its heating ducts, generators as well as others contained asbestos products. Asbestos insulation often needs to be cut in order to make it fit the particular project. As construction and maintenance occurred, asbestos dust would become airborne creating a potentially hazardous environment. Those who worked maintenance or construction could have been exposed to this harmful material. Since the dust was airborne, it did not stay in one particular place, so anyone who worked in Grand Central Terminal could have been exposed.

Many pipefitters were exposed to asbestos while working at Grand Central throughout the years. The miles of piping systems were often surrounded by asbestos block insulation, which is a form of insulation where a mixture of products including asbestos was formed into blocks around the pipes. In the 60s, 70s and 80s there were many pipefitters whose main job was to remove this insulation and replace it with newer products. These men would break the block insulation apart, throwing considerable amounts of asbestos dust into the air as they worked. By the end of the day they would be literally covered from head to foot in the white powder, earning them the nickname of the 'snowmen'. These men worked in these conditions into the mid - 1980s, not knowing that the dust was asbestos. It became known in 1987 when a report from the Attorney General for the state of New York and one from the Metropolitan Transit Authority made it public that the dust was asbestos and that the workers would need new safety equipment and procedures. Some of these so-called 'snowmen' of Grand Central have even tried to sue for damages, but have been unsuccessful as they do not show any of the diseases related to asbestos exposure. Asbestos diseases have a considerable amount of lag between exposure and diagnosis, as discussed below, so these men are still at risk.

Grand Central Station 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 nearly 30 or 40 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. Common symptoms include: difficulty breathing, chest pains, a dry hacking cough that sometimes contained blood.

The health problems associated with asbestos were not just isolated to people who worked 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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