The number of retired and former Durez workers diagnosed with mesothelioma continues to grow at an alarming rate. Durez was a chemical and plastics factory located in North Tonawanda, New York. The company manufactured plastic molding compound which it sold to other manufacturing facilities to make a wide variety of products, from hard plastic handles for irons and other small appliances to automotive parts. Durez used raw asbestos as a filler to add strength and durability to its products. The factory was also heavily insulated with asbestos containing insulation to contain the heat from steam pipes, chemical lines and reactors.

In 1992, there were nine documented cases of mesothelioma among the Durez work force. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen. It is progressive, incurable and very difficult to treat effectively. Past statistics indicate that most persons diagnosed with mesothelioma die within six to eighteen months. Nonetheless, in recent years strides have been made in the development of new treatments and therapies.

Unfortunately, the total number of mesothelioma cases resulting from past exposure at Durez now exceeds forty-five.

Within the past two years alone, seven Durez workers newly diagnosed with mesothelioma have turned to Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford for legal representation. Given the massive quantities of asbestos used at the plant every year until 1978 and the poor exposure controls in place during much of that time, it is unlikely that the pace of new cases will slow down soon. Quite often the period between first exposure to asbestos at work and the symptoms of mesothelioma is longer than forty years. Men and women who first worked at Durez in the 1970s will continue to be at risk until 2010 and beyond.

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Mesothelioma is often referred to as a signature disease for asbestos exposure. This is because there is no other recognized cause of mesothelioma among asbestos exposed workers and members of their families exposed to contaminated work clothing.  Occupational exposure to asbestos also causes, of course, a non-malignant condition known as asbestosis which, in severe cases, causes pulmonary disability and death.

In addition to causing mesothelioma, occupational exposure to asbestos also causes lung cancers, often referred to as bronchogenic carcinomas, because they originate in the lung. Occupational exposure to asbestos increases, by a factor of five, a worker’s risk of lung cancer over the risk experienced by members of the general population. When a past history of occupational exposure to asbestos is combined with a history of cigarette smoking, the risk factor for lung cancer increases from five to fifty. In this way, asbestos exposure is a very potent cause of lung cancer, as well as mesothelioma and asbestosis.

At Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford we carefully review the facts of each case. When it is necessary to take a client’s testimony as soon as possible because of signs of advancing pain and disability, we start a lawsuit immediately against all non-bankrupt parties potentially responsible for the client’s exposure to asbestos.

We work with the client’s medical providers and give advice and assistance in dealing with the various insurance companies responsible for paying the hospital and doctor costs. We also provide our clients with friendly and courteous service in related claims for workers compensation, either for lost wages or for death benefits.

Occidental Chemical Corporation, the company which owned the Durez facility in North Tonawanda, has been running a medical screening program since 1986 for Durez workers who were exposed to asbestos in the 1970s and earlier. This screening program has detected X-ray abnormalities in a large percentage of the workers.

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The medical screening program run by Occidental Chemical Corporation is open to workers and their spouses. If you were married to a Durez worker exposed to asbestos at the plant at any time prior to 1979, consider contacting the Occidental medical scheduling office at 3780 Commerce Street, Suite 600, in North Tonawanda to arrange an immediate screening. If you are already enrolled in the program, take full advantage of it.

The program includes a regular physical exam, breathing tests, and X-ray or CT of the chest and lungs. (The program is not currently open to the children of workers, even if they helped do the family laundry. If you believe that your children were exposed in this manner, your family doctor or health maintenance organization can make a referral to a lung specialist).

The increasing number of mesothelioma cases among the Durez work force is a matter of concern for all Durez workers and their families. As the numbers go up, it is also a matter of concern for neighborhood residents. The plant continued to use raw asbestos in the manufacturing process through the end of 1978. Neighborhood residents have reported that they recall seeing 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 near the Durez facility any time before 1979, you may be at risk. Consider sharing this information with your doctor.