Nearly thirty years ago, attorneys Michael A. Ponterio and John N. Lipsitz began representing former and retired workers from the Durez Plastics facility in North Tonawanda, New York, in legal claims for mesothelioma and lung cancer. Mike and John have continued to represent these men and women since establishing Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford, LLC, in 1995. Mike’s grandfather worked at the plant as did his father, before he started the practice of law in Tonawanda.
The rate of mesothelioma cases among former Durez workers is one of the highest in the nation. As reported in a 2006 article published in “The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health,” Niagara County ranks sixth in the nation for the highest death rate from malignant mesothelioma. We believe that the use of asbestos at Durez accounts for the largest number of these deaths.
Pictured above: A mixing booth that was used at the former Durez Plastics plant located in North Tonawanda
Durez was established in 1926 and quickly became a leader in the production of plastic molding compounds. Unfortunately for its employees and for the residents of the area surrounding the plant on Walck Road, Durez incorporated raw asbestos fiber to strengthen its plastic molding compounds. Giant mixers were used to combine thousands of tons of raw asbestos with other raw materials. This was an extremely dusty process, and it resulted in harmful dust becoming airborne and spreading around the plant and into the neighborhood.
Significant contamination also occurred in the Resin and Varnish buildings, where large reactors, kettles and stills were insulated with crumbly, chalky and dusty asbestos-containing pipe covering and block insulation.
Durez continued using asbestos until the end of 1978. The North Tonawanda facility closed in 1994. The period of time between first exposure to asbestos dust and the onset and diagnosis of mesothelioma, known as the latency period, is typically between 15 and 50 years.
The risk of developing mesothelioma from dust released by the operations at Durez will probably not abate for another 15 years.
The risk of contracting mesothelioma is not confined to Durez employees. It also extends to their immediate families and to those who worked and lived in the neighborhoods that surrounded the Durez plant.
Pictured above: The former National Grinding Wheel plant (as it appears today) on the corner of Walck Road and Erie Avenue
We currently represent the family of a former employee of National Grinding Wheel, an industrial operation located west of the Durez plant on Erie Avenue and Walck Road. Our client worked there from 1953 through 1987. National Grinding Wheel manufactured grinding wheels used in other industrial settings. In 2013, at the age 81, our client died from mesothelioma. He was employed at National Grinding Wheel from 1953 through 1987. He worked in the bakelite section located on the second floor of the north-west portion of the plant. All externally facing areas of the National Grinding Wheel plant, including the mixing department of the bakelite section, had multiple windows that opened to the outside environment. Due to the extremely hot working conditions, the windows were almost always kept open. Workers recall seeing dust exhausted from the dust collectors a short distance away at the Durez facility.
Durez area residents report having seen the fields outside of the plant contaminated with dust, including Ramsey Field where little league activities were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s. If you lived, worked or played near the Durez plant in North Tonawanda, New York, any time before 1979, you should consider sharing this information with your doctor.