Gowanda State Hospital (Gowanda Psychiatric Center) was located in Collins, New York. The land was originally owned by Quakers, but in 1894, the State of New York took title to 500 acres of the property for construction of a State hospital for the insane. The first building, which is still in use by the Collins Correctional Facility, was completed in 1898. As the hospital grew, nearly 100 more buildings were constructed as the institution’s population quickly rose to over 4,000 psychiatric patients.  Numerous buildings were constructed throughout the 20th Century, including patient buildings, a power house, outlying shops, and staff houses. By the late 1950’s Gowanda and other state-run psychiatric hospitals housed nearly 100,000 mentally ill New Yorkers. During the 1970s and as antipsychotic drugs were developed, some of the institutionalized patients were released and transitioned into half-way houses so that they could be reintroduced into society. As the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients took place, the prison system experienced a drastic increase in prisoners due to new State drug laws.  State officials were desperate for space and began to look at underutilized State properties to transition into prisons. In 1982, the State converted forty percent of the Gowanda State Hospital into the Collins Correctional Institution, a medium security prison. In 1994, the State opened the Gowanda Correctional Facility, which is located on the hospital grounds and adjacent to the Collins Correctional Institution. The prisons are separated by a fence and are administered as separate entities that share only heat, water, and power from the old Gowanda State Hospital power plant.

As demand for Gowanda State Hospital’s services increased, the hospital completed numerous expansions and renovations. Prior to federal regulations placed on asbestos in the late 1970s, asbestos was incorporated into dozens of building materials used in the construction and maintenance of the Gowanda State Hospital. Pipe covering, insulating cement, gaskets, packing material and vinyl floor tiles contained asbestos. Workers who handled these materials, or worked in the vicinity of those who did, are at risk for developing an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Asbestos-containing pipe covering and insulating cement lined pipes, pumps, valves and steam traps associated with the steam and water systems at Gowanda State Hospital. Asbestos-containing pipe covering also lined the steam supply, steam return, hot water supply and hot water return. Due to wear and tear, asbestos insulation materials were commonly removed and reapplied so that the equipment associated with the steam system could maintain a constant internal temperature. When asbestos-containing insulation was removed and reapplied, asbestos dust and fibers became airborne. Most workers were completely unaware of the dangers of exposure to the asbestos dust, and performed their work without masks or protective gear.

Steam traps, steam valves, and steam strainers also contained asbestos gaskets and asbestos packing at Gowanda State Hospital. On a weekly basis steamfitters and/or plumbers replaced asbestos gaskets and packing material. During the gasket replacement process, it was often necessary for steamfitters or plumbers to scrape an old gasket from its flange. Power grinders and wire brushes were frequently required to remove worn gaskets. The action of scraping and grinding worn gaskets created asbestos dust, which was inhaled by pipe workers.

If you or a loved one were once employed in connection with construction or maintenance projects at the Gowanda State Hospital (Gowanda Psychiatric Center) in Collins, New York, and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, please contact us for a free and confidential case evaluation.