Buffalo and Lackawanna New York, have a rich steelmaking history.  Republic Steel was built on the banks of the Buffalo River, giving it great access to Lake Erie and the Great Lakes and the rest of the United States.  Ease in transportation and relatively inexpensive hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls made our community ideally suited for this South Buffalo landmark.  The mill was large, spanning nearly 300 acres, and housed nine open hearth furnaces, 2 basic oxygen furnaces and two blasts furnaces.  Before being heavily impacted by the importation of foreign made steel, Republic employed some 2,500 workers working multiple shifts.  If you worked at Republic Steel in Buffalo, New York, you may have been exposed to asbestos and could be at risk for developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.




Republic Steel closed in 1984.  While it lasted, the mill provided good paying union jobs, but the prosperity it brought came with a heavy cost.  In addition to massive pollution of land, water and air, the toxins from steel production resulted in industrial disease and death among its workers.  One such toxic was the widespread use of asbestos used throughout the mill.  Asbestos, or the “miracle fiber” as it once was called, was highly prized and widely used in steel production.  Asbestos is a natural occurring element mined mostly in Canada and in parts of Africa which was nearly indestructible.  Asbestos is nearly impervious to heat and chemicals and, but for the horrific and deadly health consequences, it is ideally suited for a steel mill, which is filled with both.  Although the asbestos fibers themselves are indestructible, the products they are manufactured from release large quantities of breathable fibers into the air when they are installed or removed, when they are cut, drilled, filed, banged into or simply degraded with time and wear.  The fibers themselves are very aerodynamic and can be carried long distances in the mill until a worker breathes them in, or even when they are carried home on a workers clothing, thereby also exposing spouses and children

Asbestos products at Republic were used both in the manufacture of the steel, and in the physical construction of the production buildings themselves.  Furnaces and ovens were used to melt and hold steel at a desired temperature.   Molten steel was transported by torpedo rail cars and poured with ladles.  All of these structures and pieces of equipment were coated in asbestos thermal heat insulation and cements.  When it came time to pour the molten metal, in some instances hot tops made of asbestos were used to line and cap the molds.  The asbestos hot tops released large quantities of asbestos fibers when the ingots were removed after each pour.

Republic Steel had miles of steam pipes running through the mill.  Asbestos pipe covering was continually removed and installed on the steam piping by either skilled tradesman employed by Republic, and/or outside union contractors who were brought in to erect and maintain them.  Water was converted to steam by large commercial boilers which were insulated with asbestos.  Steam was transported to where it was needed by pipes, pumps and valves.  All of this associated equipment was insulated with asbestos.  All of the piping connections to this equipment were sealed with asbestos gaskets on bolted flanges. During maintenance and of flanged pumps, valves and steam traps, asbestos gaskets were hand scraped with a putty knife to get off some of the bigger pieces and the baked-on remainder would be ground off with a high-speed wire wheel.  Asbestos rope packing was removed from valve stems and the stuffing boxes of pumps.   All of this work was extremely dangerous and cancer causing.   Asbestos dust generated from this work endangered both the tradesman performing the work and the nearby bystanders who were engaged in steel production in the area.

Even though Republic Steel has been closed for many years, now is the time that an asbestos cancer is likely to develop.  Asbestos is toxic but acts much different than poison.  Poison can be fast acting and once swallowed can cause immediate illness.  Diseases such as mesothelioma or lung cancer often take decades after the exposure for a disease to appear.  Even though it was common for workers to smoke cigarettes in years past, smoking does not cause mesothelioma.  Asbestos exposure to a smoker makes it many times over as likely to develop lung cancer. 

Although it takes many years to develop an asbestos disease, there are strict time deadlines after diagnosis to commence a claim.  It is important to retain legal representation as soon as possible once that diagnosis is made. Please contact Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford – we are here to help!

Republic Steel
* Image above provided by: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Engineering Record, Reproduction Number NY,15-BUF,38-1.



Mesothelioma – Asbestos Exposure at Republic Steel

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