A new analysis from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) indicates that during the period 1999 to 2013 more than 12,000 New Yorkers lost their lives to the carcinogenic mineral fiber asbestos—one of the highest totals in the country.
Asbestos deaths varied significantly from county to county, with Nassau County experiencing the most and Schuyler County the fewest.
Not surprising is that the populous southern counties of Nassau (1,135 deaths), Suffolk (1,130), Queens (843), Kings (604), and Westchester (529), as well as the populous northern counties of Erie (1,133) and Monroe (657), are near the top of the list in terms of total asbestos deaths. But when asbestos deaths are viewed in terms of deaths per 100,000 people, many of New York’s less-populous counties top the list.
Niagara County, with a population of around 215,000, leads New York with an asbestos death rate of 14.5 per 100,000 people. Second and third are Cattaraugus and Wayne counties, each with a population of less than 100,000. Greene and Chenango counties have roughly 50,000 people apiece but have asbestos death rates of 8.8 and 9.0, respectively.
One explanation for the high asbestos death rates in these New York counties is the presence of major local employers that utilized asbestos-containing materials in their products and manufacturing processes.
The Occidental Chemical Corporation, for example, did business in Niagara Falls and exposed workers to raw asbestos used in the manufacture of chlorine as well as to asbestos-containing equipment used to manufacture chemicals at Occidental.
Other prominent Niagara Falls companies that used asbestos and exposed workers to the carcinogen include the Carborundum Company, Dunlop Tire and Rubber, Union Carbide, and Niagara Electro Chemical Company.
Niagara Fall residents also commuted to the industrial city of Buffalo, New York, where a number of prominent companies—including Chevrolet, American Standard, and Georgia Pacific—exposed workers to asbestos.
The small town of Olean, New York in Cattaraugus County is home to Dresser-Rand and a significant contingent of its manufacturing workforce. American Cyanamid Company and a number of other businesses that used asbestos in its products also had operations in Olean.
Similar instances of New York companies exposing workers to asbestos are found throughout the state, from the powerhouses that light up New York City to the upstate paper mills and steel plants to the shipyards that dot the state’s coastal region.
Millions of tons of asbestos were used by U.S. industry and the military during the 20th century, resulting in millions of people being exposed to asbestos and many thousands of deaths.
And as EWG points out in its latest report, asbestos is “still legal and still everywhere.” While the asbestos deaths that EWG reports occurred from asbestos exposure decades ago, the continued use of asbestos in this country ensures that this entirely preventable epidemic will continue.
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