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Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna, New York

bethlehem steel blast furnace

Photo Credits
Author:Dan Deluca 
Licensed under creative commons

Bethlehem Steel’s Lackawanna steel plant was, at one point, the largest steel factory in the world, employing over 20,000 people at its height.  However, the plant used asbestos equipment and materials during most of the twentieth century.  Workers who were employed at Lackawanna Steel prior to 1990 are at risk of developing mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused only by exposure to asbestos.

It is every mesothelioma patient’s right so seek compensation for their illness.  Because mesothelioma is caused only by asbestos exposure, all cases could have been prevented.  However, the companies that made and sold asbestos products refused to warn workers of the dangers of asbestos.  These companies knew that asbestos caused cancer since the 1920s, but chose to keep this secret to continue profiting from the sale of asbestos.  This irresponsible practice caused the illness and death of countless workers throughout the twentieth century.

Victims of mesothelioma should contact a law firm specializing in asbestos as soon as possible following a mesothelioma diagnosis.  The law firm of Belluck & Fox fights for workers exposed to asbestos, and has secured over $600 million dollars in compensation from asbestos companies over the past decade.  Our attorneys have represented clients who worked at Bethlehem Steel as riggers, laborers, electricians, and engineers.  Because of this prior experience, we have already obtained relevant documents showing how asbestos was used at the plant, including maps of the property, bills of sale for asbestos products, and prior testimony from former Bethlehem Steel workers.

  Corporate History

The Bethlehem Steel Company has its roots in the Saucona Iron Company of South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Founded in 1857, the company changed its name to the Bethlehem Iron Company four years later.  In the early 1860s, the company built its first blast furnaces and rolling mills, and by 1899 the company had shifted its business to steel production.  With this transition, the company again rebranded itself, this time adopting the name Bethlehem Steel.

World War II contributed greatly to the growth of Bethlehem Steel, such that, by 1955, the company was among the top ten of the American Fortune 500.  In the 1970s, however, the American steel industry began to crumble due to the falling price of foreign-made steel.  By 1977, Bethlehem Steel had begun to reduce steel production at their plants, including Lackawanna Steel.  Over the next several decades, the company continued to report substantial losses until filing for bankruptcy in 2001.

 Asbestos Exposure at Lackawanna Steel

In 1922, Bethlehem Steel purchased the Lackawanna Steel Company, and invested heavily in its Lackawanna, New York plant. The equipment at the site had been outdated at the time of purchase, and Bethlehem Steel embarked on a $40 million upgrade project at the site.  Lackawanna became a major production facility for the company, and was Bethlehem Steel’s first plant to use the basic oxygen technique, which remains in use in modern steelmaking.  By 1982 however, falling profits forced the company to end steel production at the plant.  Coke ovens and lesser operations remained active until 2001.  The plant was located just south of the city of Buffalo, New York, and was situated along the shore of Lake Erie.

Asbestos could be found in almost all areas of Lackawanna Steel.  Boiler rooms, for example, were a frequent site of asbestos exposure at the plant.  Boilers are large metal tanks used to create heat, hot water, and steam, and were insulated with asbestos prior to the 1990s.  The boilers were also lined with asbestos refractory, and attached to other equipment such as pumps, valves, gauges, soot blowers, and pipes using asbestos gaskets to create seals where metal ends were joined.  The pumps and valves were also stuffed with asbestos packing – braided rope made from asbestos – to create tight seals.  The gaskets were cut or punched from asbestos sheets, which would release asbestos fibers as the sheets were damaged.  Likewise, packing was often cut to length before use, and old packing had to be removed with a special hook, both of which would release breathable asbestos fibers.

Steel is an alloy of iron hardened by carbon, and thus steelmaking requires a source of carbon.  This most often comes in the form of coke, which is coal that is purified by subjecting it to extreme heat.  Coal is shoveled into large coke ovens and heated to between 1800 and 3000 degrees Fahrenheit.  At these temperatures, many of the adulterants in the coal combust, and the resultant product has a significantly higher carbon content.  Bethlehem Steel used many coke ovens, which were large, vertical ovens installed side-by-side along a conveyer belt.  Asbestos refractory lined the interiors of the ovens, and asbestos insulation, cement, and brick were also used to insulate the ovens both inside and out.

Lackawanna Steel used hot tops, furnaces, and crucibles that were lined with asbestos insulation.  Mechanical devices throughout the plant used asbestos as a brake material.  The building itself was even fireproofed by using asbestos wallboard, shingles, tile, and cement.  This cement was mixed and applied as-needed, on-site at the plant.  Pouring water into asbestos dust would disturb this dust and create a cloud of asbestos fibers in the air.  Not only would this affect those in the immediate area, but the dust would drift and spread to all areas of the factory.  This dust lingered in the plant as a persistent threat, resulting in additional exposures when disturbed by Lackawanna steel plant workers.  This was especially dangerous during construction and remodeling projects, because cracking, crumbling, or destroying asbestos materials will release millions of fibers and can contaminate an entire plant.  This put construction contractors in danger as well as Bethlehem Steel employees.

Not even workers’ families were safe.  Loose asbestos dust would often settle on the hair, clothes, skin, and shoes of workers, only to be released into the air when these workers returned home.  This “take-home exposure” has resulted in family members of factory workers developing mesothelioma.

 Belluck & Fox Has Helped Hundreds of Asbestos Victims

Asbestos is the only cause of mesothelioma, which means that all mesothelioma patients are victims of the asbestos industry.  If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is the fault of the companies that exposed you to asbestos.  For decades, the asbestos industry covered up the dangers associated with asbestos instead of warning workers about it.  This irresponsible corporate policy has caused the illness and death of thousands, overwhelmingly affecting retired workers who were employed at factories such as Lackawanna Steel.  Former employees of Bethlehem Steel who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma have the right to seek compensation from the companies that harmed them.

Experience with asbestos cases is the most important quality mesothelioma patients can look for in an attorney.  Former employees of Lackawanna Steel should also seek out lawyers that have represented other workers who were employed at the factories where they were exposed.  Belluck & Fox attorneys have represented many workers who were employed at Bethlehem Steel, and won significant compensation on their behalves.  With over $600 million in settlements and verdicts awarded to our clients over the past decade, we have a proven record of victories over the asbestos industry.   Our successful representation of former Bethlehem Steel workers means we have already shown how others were exposed to asbestos at the plant, which can help reduce the length of time required to settle your matter.

Belluck & Fox will not refer your claim to another law firm.  Our attorneys will always handle your case on an individual basis, and never group you into a large class-action suit.  We also offer our services at absolutely no financial risk to our clients; we only receive payment if we recover money for you and your family.  If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, call our offices immediately at 1-877-637-6843 or through our online contact form.


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lackawanna, ny