When it was founded in New York City in the early 1800’s as the New York Gas Light Company, Consolidated Edison (now commonly known as Con Ed) was responsible for lighting the city with gas lamps. It is now one of the nation’s largest energy companies with a service area that extends beyond the borders of New York. In 1936, the New York Gas Light Company bought the electric company that was originally founded by Thomas Edison, resulting in the company’s current name. By 1999, Con Ed had become so large that it had to sell certain of its assets to comply with public regulations. Today, Con Ed provides electricity to over 3 million customers, relying on 91,000 miles of underground cables and 35,000 miles of overhead wires. The company is responsible for creating over 30 billion pounds of steam annually.
In June 2006, Con Ed made national news because of a five day blackout that affected approximately 1,000,000 residents of Queens, New York, during some of the summer’s hottest days. A year later, Con Ed opened its newest substation in the Bronx, New York. This station, which cost $300 million to build, will generate 900 megawatts of power, serving the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan.
Power plants are responsible for generating power that is then transmitted through wires and cables across a service area. For well over a century, asbestos was used to insulate power plants and to cover pieces of equipment such as pipes and furnaces. In some cases, protective clothing worn by workers also contained asbestos, heightening the risk and intensity of exposure. Additionally, those workers who did not directly come into contact with asbestos may have been exposed because so much asbestos was released in power plants.
In these ways, employees at power plants were exposed to asbestos, a naturally occurring material that can cause life threatening respiratory conditions such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. Asbestos exposure is considered the primary cause of malignant mesothelioma, a rare and typically fatal form of asbestos cancer that affects the mesothelium, a large membrane covering many of the body’s internal organs.
Mesothelioma may not develop for 15 to 50 years after an individual is exposed to asbestos. Once a person is exposed, risk does not diminish over time. After a diagnosis is made, a physician will work with an individual to determine the most appropriate form of mesothelioma treatment to pursue. The commonly used treatments are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
The significant risks of asbestos exposure were first discovered in the 1920’s but it took many more decades before decisive action was taken to protect people from these risks. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted a ban on most uses of asbestos. However, its use continues today in certain products and industrial processes. The same year that the ban went into effect, Con Ed began efforts to remove asbestos from steam manholes throughout New York City. This effort began after an incident in which an underground pipe explosion resulted in broken window and spraying mud contaminated with asbestos. As recently as July 18, 2007, an underground Con Ed steam pipe in Manhattan exploded, creating a crater in the street. Asbestos was found in both dust and debris at this site.
Some of those who contracted mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure in the workplace would later sue former employers for damages. In one case, a New York man who had formerly worked for Con Ed and who developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure that occurred at Con Ed plants was awarded $47 million in damages.