Power plant workers and asbestos exposure is an ongoing problem, although it was worse decades ago before federal agencies put limits on asbestos use. Because power plants generate large amounts of heat, they once contained asbestos insulation and fireproofing. Past power plant workers are now being diagnosed with serious health conditions related to asbestos, including mesothelioma.
Power Plants and Workers
Power plants are large facilities that generate electricity to power grids that may cover local or regional areas. Plants may use varying energy sources to generate electricity, such as coal, natural gas, and oil. These fossil fuels are burned to boil water and generate steam that turns turbines.
Power plants may also use renewable sources of energy like hydroelectric plants or those that use solar or wind energy. There are also nuclear power plants that use nuclear reactions to generate heat and steam.
Power plants play a crucial role in modern society. Without them, we wouldn’t have heat or lights. Because power plants are so important, so are the people who keep them running. Power plants employ hundreds of people, including scientists, engineers, maintenance workers, pipefitters, and electricians.
Some employees operate the systems while others make repairs. The latter group, comprised of blue-collar workers, has been put at the most significant risk of asbestos exposure on the job.
Asbestos in Power Plants
Most power plants use the heat generated from fossil fuels or nuclear reactions to generate electricity. This process generates heat that must be contained, or the plant will not generate electricity efficiently. There are health risks and dangers associated with this excessive heat. It can lead to burns, fires, and explosions.
Before the risks of asbestos were well known, power plants were covered in asbestos to insulate pipes, boilers, and other equipment. This substance was also used to fireproof facilities. Many materials used to build power plants contained asbestos, including:
- Wall panels
- Pipe insulation
- Fire bricks
Workers also used protective equipment that contained asbestos, like fire blankets and gloves.
How Plant Workers Could Be Exposed
Asbestos exposure was more of a concern prior to 1980 before federal laws regulated asbestos use. Today, asbestos has been removed from power plants or has been contained, so it is safe to work around.
This does not mean current workers are completely safe from asbestos. There are still many ways they can be exposed and examples of it happening.
Workers at greatest risk are those workers who make repairs and perform maintenance duties at power plants. These workers are at risk because they may disturb and expose asbestos while working. Exposing contained asbestos allows tiny fibers to get into the air.
Once these dangerous fibers become airborne, they can be easily inhaled by workers in the area. This exposure can ultimately lead to illnesses like mesothelioma, especially with long-term exposure.
White-collar workers have also been put at risk of asbestos exposure. When ventilation is poor, exposed fibers could be inhaled by anyone on the premises.
Although exposure risk was greater in the past, modern power plant employees can still be exposed to asbestos. For example, in 2011, a group of contract repair workers suffered asbestos exposure at a nuclear power plant in Surry, Virginia.
The workers cut into a pipe, which sent insulating asbestos into the air. The company responsible for the pipes was fined for incorrect labeling.
Studies Prove Power Workers at Risk for Asbestos-Related Health Conditions
A 1979 study surveyed fifty-five power plant workers, all known to have been exposed to asbestos on the job. Air samples taken on site confirmed there were asbestos fibers present.
The workers displayed symptoms and markers for asbestos-related health concerns. These included asbestos fibers in their sputa, thickening and hardening of the pleura, chest pain, voice hoarseness, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
In a German study, thousands of power plant workers experienced asbestos exposure over an average period of twenty years. The study did not examine health repercussions but found more than half the workers had directly handled asbestos.
Another study looked at Italian power plant workers, discovering lung cancer and mesothelioma presented at greater rates than the general population.
A report on power plants in Mongolia from 2015 found that workers in this country face routine exposure to asbestos. Air samples showed they come into contact with asbestos at levels much higher than what would be allowed in the U.S.
Power plant workers exposed to asbestos face the possibility of developing debilitating health conditions like mesothelioma. Employees have a right to a reasonably safe workplace, with controls and safety measures in place to prevent asbestos exposure.
When employers and companies manufacturing asbestos materials failed, workers have suffered as a result. Some of those affected by asbestos have filed asbestos lawsuits.
In one case, the wife of a power plant worker died from mesothelioma due to secondary exposure to asbestos. He worked at Port Everglades Power Plant in Florida. Decades later, as his wife became ill, he recalled working in dust that adhered to his clothing.
His wife washed his clothes and was exposed to asbestos in that way. Investigations related to the lawsuit found the asbestos came from a turbine in the power plant. The final result of the suit was not made public.
In the past, power plant workers were exposed to asbestos and are now paying the price. Current workers still have some risk of exposure and could potentially develop devastating illnesses as a result. Workers have a right to a safe workplace and can sue if they are not provided one, especially if they become sick.
If you have been exposed to asbestos and later became sick, you can consult with a mesothelioma lawyer to find out how you can receive compensation for medical bills.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.