There are many components of the steel making process. One main ingredient in the steel making process is a material called coke. Coke is produced by heating coal in a large refractory oven or retort, from which air is excluded, which in turn drives off volatile contents of the coal and leaves behind a residue of pure carbon in the oven. Coke produced in these ovens is then typically charged in a blast furnace along with iron ore and limestone. The end product of this reaction is molten iron.
The Bethlehem Steel Lackawanna plant contained 9 separate batteries of these coke ovens throughout its operation.
Workers who worked on top of or alongside coke oven batteries are at a substantially increased risk for developing lung cancer and other cancers. Suspicion regarding potential casual associations between coal tar products in general and cancer of the internal organs, including lung cancer, may have existed as far back as the 1890’s, but these suspicions were not actively investigated. By the 1950’s there was a reasonable degree of scientific and medical certainty that coke oven chargers were nearly three times more likely to die of a respiratory cancer than other industrial workers.
The Kettering Study lasted approximately nine years. The purpose of this study was to understand the relationship between the chemical composition of various tars and tar fractions and their effects on the skin and internal organs (especially the lungs) of experimental animals. For unknown reasons, Bethlehem Steel chose not to participate in the study. When Kettering published its preliminary report in 1960, Kettering detailed its success in producing a lung carcinoma in mice through the inhalation of a coal tar aerosol. Although the carcinoma differed from that experienced in humans, the results were deemed promising. The Kettering study also disclosed that the lidman was considered to be the most exposed job classification in the coke oven operation. It was confirmed that non-white coke plant workers experienced a higher incidence of lung cancer than white coke plant workers. This difference was attributed, at least in part, to the fact that non-white workers spent more time on the top-side of coke ovens.
If you or a loved one worked at any of the various coke oven operations around the area, including Bethlehem Steel, Donner Hanna, or Tonawanda Coke and if you are suffering from lung or other cancers, please contact us to discuss a potential legal claim. Former coke oven workers, even if they smoked cigarettes, may have valuable claims that can be pursued in Court against companies responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of coke ovens. Our services include lawsuits against manufacturers and claims under the New York State Workers’ Compensation Law.