In December 2015, the Environmental Working Group Action Fund, headquartered in Washington, DC, released statistics for asbestos-related deaths in three Western New York counties. The organization, whose goal is to outlaw the use of asbestos, found that the death rate from asbestos disease in our area is considerably higher than both the state and the national average.

According to the data analyzed by the group, the annual death rate for asbestos-related illnesses in Niagara County was 14.5 per 100,000 people. Because the population of Niagara County is approximately 215,000 people, this means that about 31 Niagara County residents die every year from asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. By contrast, the annual average for New York State is 4.4 deaths per 100,000 people.

The asbestos-related death rate in Niagara County is the highest in the state. Erie County, which has a population of nearly five times that of Niagara County, experiences about 8.1 deaths per 100,000 residents. The death rate in Erie County is nearly double the rate statewide. Cattaraugus County has a much smaller population, but has an average annual asbestos-related death rate well above the state average.

Why are so many local residents developing and dying from diseases caused, in whole or part, by exposure to asbestos? Our region has been highly industrialized since the turn of the last century. Factories that produced steel, carbon electrodes for the steel industry and plastics required asbestos-containing thermal insulation. The same was true for oil refineries and chemical plants. The demand for industrial products and services rose sharply in the three decades following World War II. The economy was booming, fueling a demand for more housing and commercial construction. Builders began using asbestos-containing joint compound to seal the joints between sheets of drywall. Asbestos containing spray-on soundproofing and fireproofing were used on beams and decking. Asbestos was incorporated into hundreds of different products and entered the work environment and the home environment.

In Niagara County, one major source of asbestos contamination that persisted through the end of the 1970s was the production of phenol and plastic molding compound at the Durez facility in North Tonawanda. If approximately 31 residents of Niagara County have been dying annually from diseases caused by asbestos exposure, it is probable that operations at Durez have contributed to five or six of those deaths. In Erie County, operations at Bethlehem Steel have probably accounted for a fair portion of deaths as well.

There is no single explanation for the near epidemic proportion of deaths related to asbestos exposure in our area. The attorneys and staff at Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford are constantly adding information collected from work sites, manufacturing facilities and product distributors to the firm’s database. In any individual case, knowledge of the source of exposure is the key to the successful prosecution of a claim. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, please call us.