The Cajun Electric Power Cooperative is a non-profit company with headquarters in Baton Rouge. With 300,000 members and over a million residential and small business customers, Cajun Electric services cover approximately 75% of mainland Louisiana.
Most asbestos customers such as those responsible of the construction of Cajun Electric's power generating facilities were unaware of the dangers posed by asbestos; designers and engineers only knew that such materials could prevent deaths from fire injuries as well as millions of dollars in property damage. The health hazards of asbestos were kept hidden from the public by a corporate conspiracy on the part of asbestos product manufacturers for over four decades before a 1977 court case forced it into the open – starting a flood of litigation over the next quarter-century.
In 2007, a Puerto Rican study was published in which the danger of power plant employment was demonstrated. Doctors in the territory examined the chest x-rays of 1100 such workers. Factoring out the use of tobacco, fully 13% of the x-rays showed signs of asbestos disease.
Areas of power generation plants where asbestos materials were likely to be found include:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
Workers were not the only ones affected; asbestos fibers were often lodged in workers' hair and clothing and unknowingly brought into the home, exposing family members; such secondary exposure has been shown to cause asbestos disease among children and spouses of power plant employees.
Anyone who worked at a Cajun Electric facility before the1980s and their families should discuss the possibility of asbestos exposure with their family physician. Symptoms of mesothelioma are not usually apparent until many decades after initial exposure; in addition, the early symptoms often mimic those of many other respiratory diseases. However, thanks to new diagnostic tools, pathologists now have the capability to detect the preliminary “markers” of mesothelioma, so the disease can be treated in its early stages.
Given its ability to block fire, the naturally occurring fibrous mineral known as asbestos could frequently be found in almost all industrial sites throughout the US. Although the use of asbestos was usually intended to protect human life, it sadly often had the opposite effect. Asbestos exposure while at work has resulted in serious illness for thousands of laborers. The health conditions caused by asbestos exposure include "miner's lung" and cancer of the lungs; the biggest risk of developing these conditions occurs when products containing asbestos become fragile, releasing particles into the environment where they are easy to inhale or ingest. The most deadly of the asbestos-related diseases is mesothelioma, which is a form of cancer that affects the cells lining the pleural cavity; it is very difficult to treat, and patients seldom live more than two years after being diagnosed. However, treatments such as mesothelioma chemotherapy are available from doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Harvard University's Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Today, we understand the risks of being exposed to asbestos, and health and safety statutes protect employees whose jobs put them in contact with this material. People who labored near asbestos before such rules were implemented, on the other hand, commonly spent their days in locations where asbestos fibers were prevalent, and they typically were provided with very little information about how to work safely with the mineral. In addition, employees carried asbestos particles home in their clothes and hair when decontamination procedures were not offered at the job site; the consequence of this was that this carcinogen also put at risk anyone living with those who worked with asbestos.
Because conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma don't develop until a very long time after asbestos exposure first occurs, people who had jobs at asbestos-contaminated sites, as well as their spouses and children, are encouraged to discuss their history of contact with asbestos with their physicians regardless of how long ago they worked there.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Deadly Deception (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
Cabrera-Santiago, Manuel et al. “Prevalence of Asbestos-Related Disease Among Electrical Power Generation Workers in Puerto Rico.” Presentation at American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, 2007.
“Cajun Electric Power Cooperative, Inc., Company Profile”