Asbestos in Turbines

A turbine engine is used to extract some of the energy from a circulating fluid like water or air in order to power other machinery. While in operation, the components of the turbine spin up to 500,000 revolutions per minute, generating extreme heat. The surrounding area and people who work near the turbines need to be protected from this heat. At one time, asbestos shielding seemed to be the most effective option.

It is common knowledge that asbestos can cause cancer and other respiratory illness. People who work around asbestos accept that risk and wear special clothing and filters to safeguard themselves from inhaling the fibers. It is not criminal for an employer to subject employees to such risks in the workplace. However, an employer does have an obligation to inform the employees of the hazard and provide each individual with the opportunity to evaluate whether or not he/she is willing to assume the risk.

In recent years, cases have surfaced where employees working around turbine engines were not informed of the presence of asbestos in the area even though their employer and/or the equipment manufacturer were in full knowledge of the presence of the hazardous material. Since it can take 40 years for an inhaled asbestos fiber to result in illness, the employee can work in an unsafe environment and not know it for many years beyond the period of employment.

Power plant turbines supplied by General Electric beginning in 1966 were insulated with an asbestos coating. Those turbines were installed in 22,000 locations in the United States . Today, thousands of people who unknowingly worked in the asbestos-contaminated environments are reaching settlements to compensate for mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

Prior to World War II until after the Vietnam conflict, U. S. Navy ships’ hulls were insulated with asbestos to prevent the heat of the turbine engines from causing fires. Even though the dangers of working in the presence of asbestos were known, and the government had been warned by medical staff, shipyard workers were intentionally not told of the hazardous conditions and were not provided with protective clothing or masks. Many workers are now finding themselves suffering from asbestos-related diseases, surprised to discover too late that they were working in a more hazardous environment than they ever imagined.