Coal tar pitch (CTP) is commonly used in the aluminum smelting and roofing industries. Coal tar pitch is an amorphous residue produced by the distillation or heat treatment of coal tar, which is a by-product of coal when it is carbonized to make coke. This process typically occurs in coke ovens and can be found in steel-making plants world-wide. Exposure to aerosolized coal tar and coal tar products, including coal tar pitch, has been known for many decades to cause skin, lung, and other respiratory cancers in both humans and in experimental animals.

In the early 1950s, a number of companies, including the Koppers Company, now known as Beazer East, engaged in a cooperative research effort with the Kettering Laboratory of the University of Cincinnati to investigate the industrial cancer hazards of coal tar and its products. Koppers was one of the leading companies involved in the design and construction of coke oven batteries, and coal tar was one of the most important by-products of the coking process. Among other coke oven batteries designed and built by Koppers were those at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna and Donner Hanna Coke in Buffalo.

By 1957, animal experiments conducted as part of the Kettering Laboratory demonstrated that the inhalation of coal tar fumes caused lung cancers in laboratory animals. By 1960, the sponsors of the Kettering Laboratory investigation, including Koppers, were informed that the men working on the tops of the coke ovens and those men most directly exposed to the fumes from the carbonization of coal, were experiencing rates of lung cancer many times greater than the general population. The report of the Kettering investigation stated that, “unless valid evidence is obtained to the contrary, it is virtually certain that the relatively high incidence of lung cancer…will be linked to industrial exposure to coal tar.”

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The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that coal tar pitch causes cancer in both experimental animals and in humans. More specifically, the International Agency has concluded that exposures to roofers were substantially equivalent to exposures in coke oven workers for the production of cancer.

Exposures associated with roofing are the results of two operations. First, the old roof is removed by cutting, prying and scraping the existing roofing material from the roof and discarding it. Then, a new roof is installed by melting solid blocks of coal tar pitch, then pumping or carrying buckets of the molten material to the roof.

Older workers and retirees who handled coal tar pitch are at a significantly increased risk of developing respiratory cancer, including lung cancer, as a result of work they performed decades ago. Cancers are latent diseases, which often do not develop for many years after initial exposure. If you or a loved one is suffering from cancer that you believe may be related to past work as a roofer, you may wish to consult with an attorney at Lipsitz & Ponterio about possible legal claims.

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