In 1947, the Western Electric Company established a plant on Kenmore Avenue in Tonawanda, New York. Curtiss-Wright, a manufacturer of aircraft, previously occupied this plant. Western Electric manufactured all switchboards, telephones and other equipment used within the AT&T system. Western Electric was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), which operated the telephone system in the United States. The Kenmore Avenue plant manufactured various types of wire used in telephone and telecommunications applications. In 1977, the Tonawanda plant closed due to decreased demand for telephone-related products.
Asbestos was incorporated into dozens of materials used in the manufacturing process and during maintenance procedures at Western Electric. Block insulation, pipe covering, packing material, insulating cement, transite boards and gasket material contained asbestos. Laborers who handled asbestos-containing materials are at risk for developing mesothelioma, lung cancer or another asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos block insulation was used to line the interiors of inclined enameling machines at Western Electric in order to maintain the temperature necessary to melt enamel onto copper wires. These machines applied a very thin layer of enamel insulation to copper wires used in internal components of telephone equipment. Laborers removed block insulation in order to make repairs in the interior of the enameling machines. After the maintenance or repair procedures were completed, the block insulation was reapplied. Handling or cutting asbestos-containing block insulation caused asbestos fibers to become airborne, which workers inhaled.
Western Electric was heated by steam boilers. The boilers produced steam, which was delivered through a system of pipes to radiators throughout the plant. All of the equipment associated with the steam system, including pipes, valves, pumps and boilers, were covered with asbestos-containing insulation. Additionally, asbestos-containing packing material was utilized in order to prevent leaks in pump shafts and valve stems, and pipe flanges were sealed with asbestos gaskets. Workers performing maintenance or repairs on the steam system frequently removed and reapplied asbestos-containing materials in order to access equipment within the system. The process of removing and applying asbestos materials throughout the steam system emitted asbestos dust and fibers. Most workers were not aware of the dangers of exposure to asbestos dust and performed their work without masks or protective gear.
Our clients understand the importance of securing legal representation as soon as possible after a diagnosis of mesothelioma or lung cancer. If you or a loved one were once employed at Western Electric in Tonawanda, New York, and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, please contact us regarding your legal rights.