Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Pending Asbestos Lawsuit Surrounding Nassau Coliseum Could Grow

March 27, 2013

Uniondale, NY At 41, it’s the second-oldest arena currently in use by any team in the National Hockey League. Elvis has played there. So have David Bowie and Queen. There is little doubt the venerable Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum located on Long Island in Uniondale, New York, and commonly known as simply the Nassau Coliseum, is rich in history and tradition. But it also may have something else, as a pending series of lawsuits may suggest: asbestos contamination, and the potential for asbestos mesothelioma.

Various sources, including Newsday and CBS 2 New York (3/25/13), have been reporting that in excess of 100 workers employed at the Nassau Coliseum in various capacities have filed statements of claim suggesting asbestos contained in the old building has made them ill.

Today, asbestos is well-known as a carcinogen. Banned outright in many countries around the globe, its use in North America has been minimized and carefully restricted to the manufacturing sector, such as automotive brake shoes. But due to the widespread use of asbestos in prior decades as inexpensive insulation and cladding for pipes and ductwork, its presence in older buildings is a well-known fact.

Debate over the last several years has raged around the wisdom in extracting asbestos from known locations - at considerable cost - or leaving it alone, provided it resides in an area of a building where it can remain undisturbed. Asbestos is known to cause the most harm when asbestos fibers are indeed disturbed and allowed to float freely.

There is no known cure for asbestos or asbestos mesothelioma.

According to the statements of claim, asbestos plaintiffs associated with the pending Nassau Coliseum litigation include current and former workers of the facility. Among them, according to CBS 2, are electricians and carpenters who worked as independent contractors at the aging facility. Other sources suggest that Zamboni drivers are also stepping up as potential litigants.

Are spectators at New York Islanders hockey games also at risk?

The aging arena, long considered obsolete by today’s standards, will be losing its primary tenant in two years after the New York Islanders announced a move of its games and hockey operations to Brooklyn, from Long Island, at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 hockey seasons. Various scenarios relating to the rehabilitation of the site - including one idea to convert the structure into affordable housing - continue to reverberate.

However, if allegations prove true that asbestos already identified as present in the structure is making people ill, the process involved to remediate the carcinogen will be both necessary and prohibitively expensive.

But back to the pending lawsuits. Lawyers representing the approximately 140 potential plaintiffs who have filed statements of claim expect the situation to escalate to a class-action lawsuit naming Nassau County (which owns the facility), The New York Islanders, and SMG, the entity that manages the Nassau Coliseum, as defendants.

There is an expectation that plaintiffs will seek between $500 million and $1 billion in damages and compensation.

According to CBS 2, there has been no comment forthcoming from SAG or the Islanders, the major tenant of the facility. As for Nassau County, a spokesperson issued a terse statement, declaring “there is no substance behind these claims.”

In a separate story, CBS 2 New York (3/24/13) reported that state inspectors are looking into the possibility that asbestos contained in the structure might pose a cancer risk.

Attorneys for the prospective plaintiffs have not waited for the state inspectors to make their pronouncements. An asbestos lawyer representing a collection of the plaintiffs told CBS 2 that bulk samples have been sent to three separate laboratories, all coming back with dangerous levels of asbestos.

Some prospective plaintiffs already have been diagnosed with asbestos mesothelioma and are taking oxygen, the attorney said. Others have a persistent dry cough and are fearful of what it could represent.

The state of New York has launched a formal investigation. However, according to CBS 2 New York, Nassau County has admitted in the past there is, indeed, asbestos contained in the walls of the oldest, un-renovated facility in the NHL.

Pundits speculate how this will affect future attendance at New York Islander games until the team moves to Brooklyn in two years’ time. In the short term however, state health officials will have to determine how much asbestos is in the building, the likelihood of it being disturbed - or having been disturbed - and the potential for a widespread hazard.

Currently, plaintiffs in the prospective class-action lawsuit are employees and contractors who toiled at the Nassau Coliseum for a known period of time. So far, there have been no spectators to New York Islanders hockey games, music concerts or other events hosted by the facility joining the fray. But that could change….