New York Hospital Exposed Patients, Workers to Asbestos

May 1, 2013

5268329775_0ba383a46f.jpgAsbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins report that officials at the University of Rochester Medical Center's Strong Hospital recently informed patients that they may have been exposed to airborne asbestos during recent renovations.

Only after a local news station reported on the possible exposure did the hospital acknowledge it, ultimately sending a letter to recent hospital patients. The letter detailed the potential presence of airborne asbestos in the hospital during its most recent renovations. It was sent by medical director Raymond Mayewski, and was dated the same day as the news story.

The letter states that any patients present at the hospital during the renovations on the rehab unit may have been minimally exposed to asbestos. This was discovered when the carcinogen was found on the drywall and other surfaces in a nearby area. One report affirms that the amount of asbestos in building material testing as high as 12%.

The hospital apologized to its patients and informed them that its asbestos protocols will be improved. Strong Hospital was forced to indefinitely shut down all construction after the contamination was discovered, as OSHA and the New York State Department of Labor investigated the possibility of worker and patient exposure.

There are five forms of asbestos, two of which were detected at the construction site: chrysotile and anthophyllite, which were discovered in drywall, spackle, cement, caulk, and fire-proof materials. Fortunately, only chrysotile asbestos was disturbed during the renovations - anthophyllite is significantly more carcinogenic in humans because of its shape.

The construction workers at the site are reportedly extremely concerned about their health and safety, as the construction industry is riddled with former employees now suffering from mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, all direct consequences of asbestos exposure. Federal and state laws require any project involving demolition of older facilities to first test for asbestos. This, clearly, was not done at Strong Hospital, which instead relied heavily on historical records and assumptions about which materials contained asbestos.

The hospital determined the drywall was safe, however, as workers tore it out they notified safety officials of an unfamiliar material coating the joints and duct work. The material tested positive for asbestos. Other materials that had already been torn out also tested positive. Hospital officials had a meeting with the construction workers just after the positive tests were released, during which they admitted their historical records were inaccurate.

In response, Strong was forced to shut down renovation operations in the Blood and Bone Marrow Wing, the Inpatient Rehab area, and the Wilmot Cancer Center expansion, which are all now being re-tested for asbestos. Strong affirmed that the only way patients, visitors and hospital staff could have been exposed to asbestos is if construction workers tracked dust through common areas. They did admit that there was a small possibility that anyone present during the time of construction in the hospital could have been exposed.

In related news, Yarway Corporation, a subsidiary of Tyco International, recently sought bankruptcy protection in response to thousands of asbestos liability claims it is now facing. The claims stem from exposure to asbestos from the company's gaskets and packing manufactured starting in the 1920s and ending in the 1970s.

The company was founded in 1908 as Simplex Engineering Co., was sold to Keystone International in the 80s, and then bought by Tyco in 1997. During the past five years Yarway has been named in more than 10,000 asbestos liability claims and has paid nearly $130 million in settlements.

Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins highlight these stories so the public is aware of any potential exposure to the carcinogen. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses are most easily treatable when detected in their earliest stages. If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma or lung cancer, you have important legal rights, and should contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible.