Asbestos Time Bomb Ticks Faster in Old York

The picturesque, ancient northern English city of York–for which New York City and State were named–is home to the York Carriage Works. It is a firm the origins of which date back almost to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution itself. At one time, it employed over 20,000 workers in the manufacture of railroad passenger cars, or “carriages” as they are known in England. This historic firm now has the unenviable reputation of having one of the highest rates of asbestos-related illness and death among its former employees of any in the U.K. Over the past quarter century, almost 100 former employees have died from mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.

Roy Anderson, who died in November at the age of 81, was employed at the York Carriage Works from 1941 until 1986. Two of those years were spent in the company’s building shop, which is known to have contained an excessive amount of asbestos. Although it was not given as a cause of death at the time of his autopsy, his widow and a former colleague are increasingly convinced that asbestos was a factor in the demise of Mr. Anderson, who had been in excellent health for a man his age prior to the onset of his respiratory illness.

Paul Cooper, a former union official, his now asking authorities in the city to step up its investigations of employee deaths. “I got involved because Roy had asked his wife to get me to visit. I went and had a chat with him,” said Cooper. In a situation that foreshadowed the Seattle P-I expose of W. R. Grace and the town of Libby, Montana, a local newspaper–then known as the Yorkshire Evening Press–broke the story about the York Carriage Works and employee asbestos exposure back in 1983 at a time when former workers began developing mesothelioma at abnormally high rates. Workers who were interviewed for the stories talked about throwing clumps of asbestos about as if they were snowballs–not unlike the unsuspecting victims in Libby, Montana. According to local the coroner, inquests into the deaths of former Carriage Works employees will increase this year–putting the company under a very unflattering light.