By Treven Pyles
Posted on May 18th, 2017
Machine operators were the group of workers subjected to the highest levels of asbestos exposure in power plants, since they were constantly interacting with asbestos-laden equipment. Some workers would apply spray-on asbestos insulation directly on machinery, while others would cut and sand block insulation.
The first power plant in the world began operating in 1878 and since then, these industrial facilities have become indispensable. With the use of generators, power plants - also known as power stations or powerhouses - transform mechanical power into the electrical energy we cannot imagine living without nowadays. At the moment, there are over 50,000 power plants in the U.S. Electricity is generally produced by burning fossil fuel such as natural gas, coal or oil, although some plants use nuclear power or renewable sources of energy (for instance, solar or hydroelectric energy).
As the process of generating electricity involves extreme temperatures and the risk of fire, combustion and overheating is tremendous, asbestos was frequently used for insulating machinery and equipment in power plants between 1930 and 1980. Power plants are enormous facilities and for this reason, their proper functioning usually requires over 400 employees. While machine operators supervise the power generating equipment and ensure it works efficiently, distributors control the rate at which electricity is produced, and dispatchers examine demands to determine how much electrical energy the facility needs to generate.
Machine operators were the group of workers subjected to the highest levels of asbestos exposure in power plants, since they were constantly interacting with asbestos-laden equipment. Boilers, generators, turbines, valves, pumps and gaskets were only some of the machinery and components asbestos was used for as insulation or to reduce friction. By maintaining and repairing such equipment, operators would inevitably release tremendous amounts of toxic fibers in the air, which they would subsequently inhale.
Some workers would also apply spray-on asbestos insulation directly on machinery, while others would cut and sand block insulation, creating a lot of hazardous dust. Because power plants are facilities operating 24/7, the majority of employees would work twelve-hour shifts, thereby breathing airborne asbestos fibers for extended periods of time on a regular basis. The most common asbestos-containing products in power plants included:
However, distributors and dispatchers might have been exposed to this carcinogenic mineral as well, as it was not unusual for facilities' floors and roofs to be insulated with solid layers of asbestos. Poor ventilation, which was common in most power plants, only increased the duration of exposure.
Due to the astounding prevalence of asbestos, nearly all power plants in the U.S. have been exposing their workers to it throughout the past century. The following list includes one major power generating facility responsible for asbestos exposure for each state:
The risk of developing a serious disease is very high for power plant workers. As a result of regularly handling asbestos-containing products on the job, thousands of people who worked in power generating facilities before the 1980s have recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer. Due to the long latency time they entail, asbestos-related diseases occur within 20 to 50 years of first exposure. Nevertheless, numerous power plant workers have recovered financial compensation for their injuries throughout the past three decades by either filing a claim with the company's asbestos trust fund or, if the facility has not entered bankruptcy protection, by filing a lawsuit.
One successful case involves plaintiff Paul Crain, who developed mesothelioma after having been exposed to asbestos by Long Island Lightning Company, a power plant which has provided electricity and natural gas to multiple communities in New York until 1998. Crain worked as a steamfitter between 1975 and 1986 at the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant construction site. Asbestos exposure would occur when he was installing and repairing pipes, which had to be wrapped in asbestos blankets, as well as during his job as an insulator. Crane also worked as a welder for the same company and he would use the same asbestos blankets to shield himself against high temperatures and fire.
Moreover, before the pure asbestos blankets were replaced with asbestos-containing ones, the work areas had not been wetted down to prevent dust from spreading and employees had not been asked to leave the facility during this operation. Following trial, Long Island Lightning Company was found responsible for the presence of asbestos blankets on the site, since they were in charge of supervising workers and implementing safety procedures concerning those products.
If you were injured by asbestos exposure as a power plant worker, we strongly encourage you to take legal action. The attorneys at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. have been representing victims of occupational asbestos exposure since 1990 and have thus far recovered over $1.4 billion for their clients. Please contact us at (205) 328-9200 and we will promptly evaluate your case.