It seems you can hardly turn on the local news or drive to the Galleria without seeing warnings about mesothelioma and asbestos. That’s not surprising; the Buffalo area sees a lung cancer mortality rate that is four times higher than the rest of the state. But how did the 716 area become a hotbed of asbestos exposure and lung disease? To find out, we need to look at Buffalo’s history as New York’s “Asbestos Alley.”
The City of Light
Buffalo became a major city during the first industrial revolution. It’s positioning along the great lakes, combined with railroads and the construction of the Erie Canal made it the ideal place for grain storage and manufacturing.
As technology developed, factories and industrialists looked to new materials to maintain their equipment. In the early 1900s, many Buffalo manufacturers used asbestos to insulate boilers, pipes, and other industrial machinery.
When car manufacturing came to Buffalo, workers handled asbestos brakes, gaskets, and other parts, unaware of the dangers they faced. Toward the 1920s, even office buildings and homes used asbestos as roofing insulation and floor tile.
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In the 1930s, early research warned that asbestos was a major factor in lung disease. Unfortunately, the medical community did not agree on that consensus until the mid-1950s.
Even after the dangers of asbestos were well known, there was no rush to remove and replace asbestos materials in factories across Buffalo. Decades passed before the newly-formed EPA took action in the 1970s, before rolling back restrictions in the 1990s.
Tens of thousands of Buffalo workers were exposed to asbestos materials for over 50 years, many not realizing the harm they faced on a daily basis. While asbestos was everywhere, even in the ceilings of many homes, the city’s steel, brass, and car plants presented a much higher risk of exposure than Buffalo’s other industries. This was largely due to insulation being used to regulate the intense heat of the machinery and materials used in product manufacturing.
Even after asbestos was determined harmful to human health, employees were rarely warned of the dangers of asbestos exposure and even fewer were given the proper training and equipment needed to prevent injury.
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral, similar to hair. It is easily inhaled and clings to clothing. Because most workers weren’t warned of asbestos exposure, they also weren’t instructed on proper decontamination procedures.
When employees at a plant with asbestos materials went home, they inadvertently exposed their spouse and children to the fibers. In this way, whole families were exposed to dangerous asbestos because of inaction from business owners and product manufacturers.
All this raises an interesting question: If workers and their families were exposed to asbestos 40-70 years ago, why are we just hearing so much about mesothelioma and other lung diseases? It has to do with the “latency period.”
The latency period is the time that passes from exposure of a disease-causing material to the time that symptoms manifest. For asbestos exposure, most cases of mesothelioma develop 20-50 years after the initial exposure.
Each case of mesothelioma is different and the latency period often depends on the amount of exposure and the type of asbestos fiber. Someone who was exposed every day at work may develop symptoms in a little less than 20 years, whereas the child of that same worker may develop mesothelioma when they are 70 or 80, all because of that initial exposure.
The more awareness we raise about asbestos exposure, the more we find that mesothelioma and lung cancer patients had asbestos exposure at some point in their lives. While asbestos is no longer used in new products, it is unfortunately impossible to turn back time for those who were exposed in the past. Sadly, we anticipate that we will continue to see residents of Western New York continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma and lung cancer due to asbestos exposure for years to come.
If you or someone you love were diagnosed with lung cancer or mesothelioma, you deserve a team that will fight for you. If you’d like to discuss your case with an experienced mesothelioma attorney from Richmond Vona, LLC, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.