Mesothelioma in Power Plant Workers

Quick Summary

Power plants involve a great deal of friction and heated objects. Asbestos-containing products were used in these power plants because they were relatively fireproof and inexpensive to make. Asbestos fibers were then released into the general work area, where they could be ingested or inhaled by workers.

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Mesothelioma and Power Plant Workers Explained

Power plant workers are at a higher than average risk of developing mesothelioma. Currently, there are more than 55,000 power plant workers employed in the U.S. The average age of a power plant worker is around 50 years of age. They usually work alongside refractory plant workers and water/sewage plant workers. As a result, they share some of the same risks while in the workplace.

Power plant workers were exposed to asbestos in the past as part of their job and many continue to be exposed today, albeit at a lower level than before. These workers are considered to have a high risk for developing an asbestos-related disease.

History of Power Plants

The very first electrical power plant was built in 1878 in Germany. This power plant changed the way power reached its constituents in Europe, America and other developed countries. While the manufacturing of power plants includes both nuclear power plants and thermal power plants (plants that use fossil fuels to make energy), the ultimate goal of these plants is to generate power that could be harnessed for use by the masses.

There is a lot of skilled labor involved in the creation, storage and distribution of power. Many power plants have hundreds of employees (between 400 and 700) at any point in time. This includes blue and white collar workers. Even though blue collar workers directly work with asbestos and are at a higher risk of disease when compared to white collar workers, both types of workers are at risk for inhaling or ingesting asbestos as part of their job.

Depending on their specialization, a power plant worker typically maintains equipment, metal work, system control and machinery operation. Most of the workers begin their job as a non-licensed operator and eventually work their way up to become licensed operators or senior reactor operators. A typical shift for a power plant worker is between 8-12 hours, giving them a large window in which to become exposed to asbestos on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, asbestos is an extremely toxic substance and has been linked to the development of pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma and pericardial mesothelioma, as well as other types of lung cancer and asbestosis. Because companies knew the dangers of exposure to asbestos since the 1930s and still used asbestos as part of their manufacturing process, there have been many lawsuits on behalf of the power plant worker and their families who also were exposed to the substance. Many of these lawsuits yielded thousands of dollars for the worker and his or her family.

Prominent Power Plants Involved

For many years, exposure to asbestos-containing products was part of the everyday work of the power plant worker. They mostly worked with items that were resistant to heat, such as pipe insulation and fireproofing sprays, which contained asbestos.

Some of the products commonly used by power plant workers that contain asbestos include the following:

  • Asbestos boilers
  • Blocks
  • Asbestos pipe covering
  • Asbestos blankets
  • Asbestos panels
  • Asbestos plaster
  • Firebrick
  • Raw asbestos
  • Mastic
  • Asbestos compounds
  • Hot tops
  • Gaskets
  • Cement

If you worked with any of these products as part of your job in a power plant, you were likely exposed to asbestos and should be screened for asbestos-related diseases on a regular basis.

Asbestos was especially common in electrical plants and centers that distributed the power. Things like lignite mining plants, outlying workshop and transformer stations all contained asbestos and put workers at risk for asbestos-related disease.

Occupational Exposure to Asbestos

Power plant workers at the highest risk for exposure to asbestos are blue collar workers responsible for installing or maintaining electrical appliances and pipes. These workers are more likely to get mesothelioma later in life, as their exposure to asbestos was greater than other workers. Workers who refurbished power plants are also at risk for developing mesothelioma from whenever they had to cut into existing asbestos products before putting in other products containing asbestos.

Asbestos pulp was sprayed routinely on heated machinery, like boilers. Other workers used asbestos insulation on piping, pumps, gaskets and seals in the plant. This caused asbestos fibers to fill the air with the toxic substance, where it could be inhaled or ingested by other workers. As mentioned, one didn’t have to directly work with asbestos to come down with an asbestos-related illness. Those who worked in offices near the plant, such as supervisors, were also exposed to airborne asbestos and developed an asbestos-related disease as a result. Many of these plants weren’t well ventilated, so the asbestos fibers were allowed to float in the air for long periods of time.

As late as 2011, workers have been known to be exposed to asbestos during the cutting of pipes in a power plant located in southeastern Virginia. At least three trailers were covered with asbestos dust and workers inhaled or ingested the dust. As a result of the company’s negligence, the company was forced to pay a $4,900 fine because they did not label the product as containing asbestos.

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Research on Asbestos and Power Plants

There have been many research efforts to identify the link between being a power plant worker and getting an asbestos-related disease. In one study out of Germany, power plant workers inhaled asbestos fibers for 2 decades as part of their job at the plant. Workers who dealt with the actual generation of power had greater asbestos exposures than workers who dealt in gas supply or power distribution.

In the same research study, out of about 8,600 power plant workers, half dealt with products that contained crocidolite and chrysotile, which are dangerous forms of asbestos. Some workers dealt with only chrysotile, while others dealt only with crocidolite. It is difficult to say whether some forms of asbestos are more dangerous than others, as all appear to be hazardous to come into contact with.

If you were a power plant worker and were exposed to asbestos, you may be entitled to compensation for any illness you got from asbestos exposure. Additionally, your family members may also be compensated if they also got sick due to secondary inhalation of asbestos.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

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