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2011 Summer

Lipsitz & Ponterio represents the family of a man who went to work at Bethlehem Steel in 1967 at the age of twenty-three. Our client was a member of the United Steel Workers Union. He worked at the steel plant until 1994. In the fall of 2007, at the age of sixty-three, our client developed lung cancer. For a significant portion of his employment at the plant, he worked on top of coke oven batteries as a lid man. His work involved opening lids at the top of the batteries so that the ovens could be charged with coal and sealing the lids after the charging process was completed.

The coke oven division at Bethlehem Steel was the largest coke oven operation in Western New York. Coke is produced by baking coal in an airless refractory oven. The baking process drives off the volatile content of the coal and leaves a residue of pure carbon, or coke. Coke is commonly used in the steel-making process both as a fuel and as an additive.

The men who worked on top of coke oven batteries were exposed to large quantities of fumes, dust and vapors containing carcinogenic compounds, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). During an eight hour shift, it was typical for one lid man to work on seventeen or eighteen ovens, spending at least fifteen minutes on top of each oven. The lid man’s job was one of the dirtiest jobs at any steel plant.

In the Buffalo area there were three coke oven operations: the one at Bethlehem Steel, which was the largest; the Donner Hanna Coke Company in Buffalo; and Semet-Solvay in Tonawanda, now known as Tonawanda Coke and still in operation. Even the companies that designed and manufactured coke oven batteries concede that by the early 1960’s they were aware that coke oven emissions were a potent cause of respiratory cancers, including lung cancer. A large body of published evidence demonstrates that the coke oven industry knew, or should have known, well before 1950 about the cancer hazards of exposure to coke oven emissions. Larry car drivers, lid men, pushers and other laborers who worked on top of or alongside coke oven batteries are at an elevated risk for developing lung cancer and other cancers.

As a result of our client’s exposure to coke oven emissions, he developed lung cancer and succumbed to this disease six months later.