Grand Central Station
One of the most prominent landmarks in Manhattan, Grand Central Station has had a long history of servicing commuters to and from the surrounding boroughs. Originally constructed as a station to accept steam locomotives in the 1870s, it was rebuilt between 1903 and 1913 to accommodate the new electric trains that were rolling on the miles of track between Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and other areas. Because of the massive refurbishing and extensive construction at the site in the early 20th century, the underground plumbing was connected to other nearby structures as well. The plot of land on which Grand Central Station is located soon became the site for other notable construction projects, including the Chrysler Building and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Asbestos in Grand Central Station
The steam pipes that serviced these buildings were coated with a layer of asbestos, which was commonly used at the time as a heat insulating compound. The workers who coated these pipes in the early 1900s often inhaled the tiny asbestos fibers and would later complain of respiratory problems. As refits of the plumbing system were undertaken in later years, asbestos fibers escaped into the actual subway system and the ventilation fans proceeded to spread the microscopic mineral throughout the station. By the 1950s, the terminal building had seen its glory days as a commuter station fade into the past as more and more people were now driving to and from Manhattan. The facility was eventually closed and was scheduled for demolition until it was preserved as a National Historic Site. By 1998 the station was again fully operational after a massive renovation project restored the terminal to its original splendor. However this rebuilding program involved a complete reinstallation of plumbing, revealing the actual amount of asbestos from earlier construction.
Until the 1980s the link between asbestos exposure and the health conditions that afflicted plumbers and pipefitters was only speculation, but medical researchers at this time confirmed the link between the tiny fibers and a number of benign and malignant growths. Mesothelioma is the most serious of these conditions, caused by latent asbestos fibers becoming carcinogenic after being embedded in the lungs for decades. Today there are still concerns about some of the aging pipes underneath Grand Central Station because it is known that asbestos remains on the premises. Although this substance is no longer used as an insulator in the United States, much of the older plumbing in structures such as Grand Central Station remain coated with this material. Workers who must operate underneath the terminal use special safety respiratory masks when removing the residual asbestos from steam pipes and other plumbing, though dust from the asbestos wraps still collects in certain enclosed areas.