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New York arena workers say asbestos caused mesothelioma in colleagues

Workers at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island say at least two colleagues contracted mesothelioma from asbestos in the walls of the 40-year-old arena, home of the New York Islanders hockey team.


The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the state Department of Labor have opened investigations at the coliseum in response to complaints from about a dozen workers, who told NBC New York that several areas of the arena are covered with asbestos.


The station reports that workers have been raising questions about possible asbestos exposure for years. They said two colleagues have contracted mesothelioma and cancer and that they believe the building played a role in the illnesses.


"Sometimes we have to drill into it and the fibers fly everywhere," one worker told the television station. "When blowers are used to clean up, the asbestos is sent into the air."


Asbestos was used for decades to make fire-resistant building materials. When damaged or deteriorated, the substance becomes “friable” and fibers released into the air can be easily inhaled, lodging in the lungs.


Exposure to the fibers causes mesothelioma, a deadly disease of the lung and abdominal lining. There is no cure and treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation have proven ineffective against the disease, which is typically diagnosed decades after exposure to asbestos. Most patients die within 18 months of diagnosis.


According to NBC New York, coliseum workers provided pictures of a white substance believed to be asbestos to an attorney. The attorney, who represents electricians, plumbers, stagehands, carpenters and other coliseum workers, told CBS 2 that three separate laboratories confirmed that samples of the substance collected by a worker contained “very dangerous levels of asbestos.”


The attorney said the workers plan to sue SMG, the arena’s manager, and Nassau County.


“I represent individuals who have mesothelioma and lung cancer and are at home on oxygen,” the attorney said. “These folks are very concerned about their health. They’re very worried not only about their own safety, but everyone’s safety.”


Ted Fitzgerald, regional director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Labor, told the Islanders Hockey Blog that the OSHA inspection will determine any violations of workplace health and safety standards. That could lead to citations and fines for SMG.


“The inspection is ongoing,” Fitzgerald said. “It's too early to estimate a completion date at this time.”