New York and Asbestos Exposure

The borough of Queens has the unenviable distinction of having the highest asbestos-related death rate in the state of New York. During the last two decades of the 20th century, 228 residents of Queens died from mesothelioma and 62 died from asbestosis. Queens is more densely populated and more highly industrialized than its neighbor, the Bronx, which reported 93 asbestos-caused fatalities during the same period.

In the entire state, workers from nearly 400 locations have contracted these two diseases which are exclusively caused by the mineral. Almost any building or job site – even schools, offices and churches – can potentially offer a risk of asbestos exposure; however, shipyards, chemical plants, and oil refineries are considered to be the riskiest industries. Even workers at restaurants have been exposed to the material.

Asbestos occurs naturally in New York in great enough quantities to mine. As expected, this industry accounts for the highest level of reported asbestos exposure accidents. Talc, a material used in clay, also contains trace amounts of naturally-occurring asbestos. Although, officials claim that the amount of asbestos found in talc is minimal, areas where the chalky substance is mined, such as Jefferson County, also report extremely high rates of mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the chest and abdomen.  Jefferson County also has one of the three known asbestos deposits in the state. The other two are located close to the Vermont border.

Probably the most famous case of asbestos exposure in the world was caused by the collapse of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. The iconic pictures of the cloud of dust chasing survivors down the street mark the beginning of many days in which asbestos fibers floated in New York’s air. Even now, many of the city’s residents suffer from respiratory illnesses brought on by this disaster. This is by no means the only way New Yorkers have been exposed to an atmosphere filled with asbestos fibers in recent years. An old steam pipe exploded in Manhattan in 2007 spewing water and pieces of its asbestos insulation into the air.

Asbestos has been used for hundreds of years, but its large-scale use dates back to the days when the industry began to develop in New York just before the Civil War. Today, the removal of asbestos has grown into a large trade that continues at a steady pace. However it will take many years to complete its eradication from New York’s public buildings.