Bethlehem Steel Workers Gather About Asbestos Woes
Work at a steel mill certainly includes plenty of dangers. Though the work environment in existing mills has improved over the decades and workplace safety rules written back in the 1980s made the job a little less hazardous, there is/was still a sizeable risk of getting hurt or even dying on the job.
However, many steel workers of the past didn’t die from accidents or other plant mishaps. They died as a result of the “invisible killer” – asbestos – and last week more than 200 former employees from Bethlehem Steel in Upstate New York gathered to discuss their fears about exposure to the toxin during their years – and often, decades – of employment with the steel giant.
The men and women came together at a hotel in the town of Lackawanna, NY in Erie County (near Buffalo) to ask questions about the cancer already raging in their bodies, or simply to talk about what may lie ahead for them, even if they’re healthy now.
The Buffalo News reports that many came to learn about the compensation available to them as victims of negligent asbestos exposure.
“It was flying all over the place and I was inhaling it,” said Gerald Noznisky, 83, a former blast furnace laborer and crane operator, of the dust he believes contained asbestos and other toxic materials.
He breathed in the toxins daily.
Many of Noznisky’s co-workers have already filed claims alleging exposure to radioactive material at the mill, and they or their survivors have received compensation for their suffering, thanks to a federal program designed to benefit former employees of the Department of Energy and its contractors, of which Bethlehem Steel was one, working with the atomic bomb program.
Now, it’s time to focus on the horrors of asbestos exposure, the (mostly) men said as they sat awaiting information on their plight. And as they spoke to each other it became clear that, regardless of their length of time of employment at the steel works, many were suffering due to their past work.
Joseph Georger only spent seven years at Bethlehem Steel, for example, but can find no other reason for his recent diagnosis of asbestosis other than those years he worked there as a “helper”, insulating pipes with asbestos-containing wrap.
Frank Kwiatkowski, who – on the other hand – spent 30 years working in Bethlehem’s coke ovens, can still vividly describe his work as a millwright, pipe fitter and welder.
“Some days, you would walk in and it was like it was snowing,” said Kwiatkowski, who is 66 years old and worried about his health. He had plenty of direct contact with the toxin as he would grind and shape the asbestos so that it could be molded as insulation onto pipes.
Dust was everywhere, he noted.
Now, he and other former employees must decide how to move forward and whether to seek compensation for their illnesses, which range from COPD to mesothelioma.
It’s a personal decision for each though it’s not hard to comprehend that they simply aren’t to blame for the diseases they now face.