General Motor’s Central Foundry Division, now a part of GM Powertrain, was founded in 1917, in Saginaw, Michigan, by sixteen men as the Saginaw Malleable Iron Company. Foundries melt iron ore, steel and other ingredients in order to create various parts used to make cars, specifically car engines. Two years after it was established, the company was sold to GM, and expanded to three plants, including the original Saginaw plant, Grey Iron Foundry in Tonawanda, New York, and Saginaw Steering Geer. In 1946, under the Central Foundry Division, GM combined these plants and several others throughout the United States. At its peak in 1967, the Central Foundry Division was the largest foundry organization in the world, employing over 11,000 workers. General Motors announced in 1983 that it would be closing the Central Foundry in Tonawanda, New York in 1984.

Prior to federal regulations imposed in the 1970s, asbestos-containing materials were applied to hot surfaces in many foundries, such as the Tonawanda site, because of its fire resistant and insulating qualities. At the Tonawanda plant, cupolas (or furnaces) were used to melt and pour metal to create castings and parts. Asbestos insulation covered the pipes and ducts associated with these furnaces. Despite the threat they posed to workers’ safety, cupola furnaces were for decades the primary means of melting cast iron in foundries.  This is because cupolas employ a method of melting that is continuous in its operation, they are easy to use, and their operating costs are low.

A typical cupola consists of a vertical steel shell lined with refractory brick. The charge is introduced into the furnace body by means of an opening about halfway up the vertical shaft.  Most cupolas are built with a drop-bottom design consisting of hinged doors under the hearth.  This allows the bottom to drop away at the end of melting to aid cleaning and repairs.  Many foundry workers were required, as part of their jobs, to clean out cupolas by chipping away at layers of built-up slag and worn asbestos refractory materials.

The Tonawanda plant’s boiler house contained several large industrial boilers. Asbestos insulation covered parts of the boilers and many of the associated piping, valves and pumps inside the boiler house. Asbestos-containing insulation materials located in the foundry and boiler house were repaired and replaced on a regular basis by outside insulation contractors. Old insulation was torn off, and new insulation was cut to fit the piping and contours of the boilers. GM workers, as well as outside contractors, including iron workers, insulators, boilermakers, sheet metal workers, electricians and those who worked in the foundry itself or boiler house may have been exposed to high levels of asbestos dust, a major risk factor for developing mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases.

Since 1995, the attorneys at Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford, LLC have been helping clients in Buffalo, Rochester, Niagara Falls, and Syracuse, NY, who have been injured due to asbestos exposure. Through our tireless efforts, we have helped to shape and reform asbestos laws throughout the state of New York. We have a full team of lawyers devoted to representing people exposed to asbestos. Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford, LLC, represents.

In the process of representing former workers and retirees from the GM Central Foundry and their families, we have gathered extensive knowledge about the asbestos containing products to which these workers were exposed. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer,  please contact us today and we will schedule an appointment to come to your home and meet with you and your family to explain your legal rights.



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