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Were power plant workers exposed to asbestos on the job?

By Treven Pyles

Posted on May 18th, 2017

Yes. In fact, the workers subjected to the highest levels of exposure to asbestos were the machine operators, 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 use sandpaper on insulation.

Power plants are indispensable in our world. 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 fuels such as natural gas, coal or oil, although some plants use nuclear power or renewable sources of energy (for instance, solar or hydroelectric energy).

Why was asbestos used in power stations?

As the process of generating electricity involves extreme temperatures and the risk of fire, combustion and overheating is ever-present, 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 risk of inhaling asbestos dust 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 where asbestos was used as insulation or to reduce friction. By working on maintaining and repairing this 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 use sandpaper on insulation, creating hazardous dust. Because power plants are facilities operating 24/7, the majority of employees would work twelve-hour shifts, thereby airborne asbestos fibers were inhaled for extended periods of time on a regular basis.

The most common asbestos-containing products in power plants include:

However, distributors and dispatchers might have been exposed to the risk of inhalation of this carcinogenic mineral as well, as it was not unusual for the 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.

Source: The National Center for Biotechnology Information

Where did asbestos exposure occur?

Due to the astounding prevalence of asbestos use, nearly all power plants in the U.S. exposed their workers to this naturally occurring mineral throughout the past century. The following list includes one major power generating facility per state:

Compensation for power plant workers affected by asbestos exposure while on the job

The risk of developing a serious lung 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 plants before the 1980s have recently been diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases of the lung tissue. Due to their long latency, asbestos-related diseases occur within 20 to 50 years from the first occupational exposure.

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 legal claim.

One successful case involves plaintiff Paul Crane, who developed mesothelioma cancer after having been exposed to asbestos at the Long Island Lighting Company, a power plant that has provided electricity and natural gas to multiple communities in New York until 1998. Crane worked as a steamfitter between 1975 and 1986 at the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant construction site. He suffered asbestos exposure when 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 used the same asbestos blankets to shield himself against high temperatures and fire.

Moreover, before the pure asbestos blankets were replaced with somewhat safer ones, the work areas were wetted down to prevent dust from spreading and employees were not instructed to leave the facility during this operation.

Following trial, Long Island Lighting 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 seek legal guidance. At Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., we have been representing victims of occupational asbestos exposure since 1990 and have this far recovered over $1.4 billion for clients suffering from an asbestos disease, such as malignant mesothelioma. Please contact us for a free evaluation of your case.