Power Plants

Summary

American society is entirely reliant on electric power. The United States electrical power grid stretches from north to south and coast to coast. It's interconnected by a maze of power plants, substations and transmission lines.

Electric power production began in the 1800s. Since then, workers constructed hundreds of electric power plants across the nation. Many of these power plants contained asbestos.

Three primary energy sources are used to produce electric power. One is hydro-electric that relies on rushing water to turn generator turbines. The second is steam-powered generation. Most steam power plants burn fossil fuels like oil and coal to create heat that turns steam generators. A third energy source is nuclear fuel that requires atomic reactions to make electricity. Before the mid-1980s, all three power plant types installed asbestos-containing materials or ACMs.

MJN Brief

The health risks from human asbestos exposure first surfaced in the 1930s. That was ten years after ACMs became popular in American power plants. Many asbestos manufacturers and suppliers of products used in power plant construction were aware their materials posed long-term health dangers to power plant workers. Many plant executives also knew that asbestos exposure in their facilities was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode as a lethal lung disease called mesothelioma.

Asbestos exposure caused mesothelioma. There’s no other contributor to this nasty form of lung cancer. Tragically, the vast majority of power plant workers had no suspicion that their workspace was so threatening. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blew the whistle on asbestos exposure. They identified ACMs as serious health hazards in power plants as well as all other work environments containing asbestos. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also made asbestos abatement a priority. By the mid-80s, authorities banned asbestos products and their installation in American power plants ceased.

Asbestos-Containing Materials in Power Plants

For seven decades, power plant workers installed and co-existed with asbestos in their workplaces. Asbestos was once considered the miracle material for power plant applications. It’s a silicate mineral harvested from the earth and had unique properties that perfectly fit power plant needs.

Asbestos was fire resistant and thermally inert making it an excellent substance to control the heat and flame danger present in power plants. Asbestos didn’t conduct electricity and was non-corrosive. It fit perfectly with wet, electrically-charged plant conditions. Asbestos was stable and smoothly blended with other power plant materials giving them additional strength and durability.

Finally, asbestos was readily available and relatively inexpensive. Therefore, every power plant built before the 80s contained loads of ACMs.

Many power plant products once contained asbestos, including:

Power Plant Workers and Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos and ACMs are quite safe and stable once the products are installed and left undisturbed. The real danger for airborne asbestos fiber exposure occurred when workers were handling the materials as well as being exposed to other workers using ACMs. Drilling, sawing, cutting, sanding, shaping and forming asbestos products always released tiny asbestos particles into the surrounding atmosphere. Disturbing old asbestos products during renovations also created clouds of friable fibers.

Unprotected workers inhaled asbestos fibers while they went about their tasks. When one inhales asbestos fibers, these microscopic shards stick into the lung lining. It is impossible to breathe these fibers out, cough them out or exhale them. They remain permanently fixed in the mesothelium where they eventually built up scar tissue and cause mesothelioma.

Power plant workers exposed to airborne asbestos dust include:

  • Structural, electrical, chemical, mechanical and civil engineers.
  • Generator operators and controllers.
  • Pipe and steamfitters.
  • Electricians and power line constructors.
  • Millwrights, machinists and drill press operators.
  • Maintenance and janitorial workers.
  • General trades people like welders, drywallers and painters.
  • Quality control inspectors and supervisors.
  • Administration and clerical staff.

Asbestos exposure is mesothelioma’s only cause. A power plant worker’s risk of developing mesothelioma depended on the type of exposure they worked with, the number of asbestos fibers they inhaled and the length of time or duration of exposure. Once power plant workers developed mesothelioma, little could be done to treat it. Compensation becomes the only just remedy.

Compensation for Power Plant Workers with Mesothelioma

Power plant workers who developed mesothelioma from workplace asbestos exposure are eligible for compensation. Mesothelioma victims can apply for medical expense coverage, lost earnings and personal injury awards. Mesothelioma victims’ families can file claims on their behalf as well as commence lawsuits in wrongful death cases.