The power plant run by Los Angeles County Water and Electric at Manhattan Beach was run on fossil fuels, i.e. oil and/or coal. Not only have the resulting hydrocarbons created smog and other health hazards; asbestos exposure has been an ongoing risk as well.
Asbestos had been used for fireproofing throughout the Industrial Age. Virtually made of rock, it can be woven like cloth, and is highly resistant to electrical current. In addition, it was inexpensive to purchase.
The cost to society and human health has been extremely high, however. A RAND study by Stephen J Carroll in 2002 estimated that the financial cost to U.S. society could eventually reach $265 billion.
Utilization of Asbestos
By itself, electricity can be hazardous. In addition, the generation process – particularly in fossil-fuel plants such as Los Angeles County Water and Electric – creates high amounts of heat, and fuel oil is highly flammable in any event.
In the past, the solution was to spray machinery, pipes and electrical conduits with asbestos-containing material, or ACM. This went by numerous brand names; Monokote, manufactured by the W.R. Grace Company, was one of the most common. In addition to fireproof insulation, asbestos was one of the gasket materials used in sealing machinery components that included pipe fittings, valves and pumps. Paints and flooring contained substantial amounts of asbestos as well; normal maintenance activities would have created a great deal of asbestos dust.
The average power generation plant might have miles of asbestos-coated pipes and ductwork. Such plants constructed before 1970 have large amounts of friable asbestos, i.e. substances containing ACM that is crumbling and flaking. This produces asbestos-laden dust.
The usual solution has been to encapsulate asbestos. This consists of coating asbestos-laden surfaces with some type of resin or glass-like material so that it does not become friable.
Current regulations require the use of approved respirators and even HAZMAT suits if a worker is required to perform tasks in an area where the presence of friable asbestos is suspected.
If You Have Been Exposed
Virtually everyone today has been exposed to asbestos to some degree. It generally requires a high degree of exposure over an extended period of time to cause respiratory illnesses, however. There are other exacerbating elements: smoking, genetic predisposition, and other factors can have an effect on whether or not someone will develop mesothelioma, a rare form of asbestos cancer that’s only known cause is exposure to the mineral.
A solid diagnosis is necessary in order to be successful in any sort of asbestos litigation. This is particularly true if malignant mesothelioma is involved, because while other factors have been implicated, to date asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Therefore, defense counsel will usually attempt to prove that the illness was misdiagnosed.
It is also vital to gather as much information about the exposure as possible, since rules of evidence in such cases require that a direct cause due to exposure to a specific product be demonstrated.