The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant (CCNPP) is located in Lusby, Maryland on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. Two reactors have a total generative capacity of between 850 and 900 megawatts. The turbines for the two units were designed by GE and Westinghouse, and the plant is owned and operated by Constellation Energy.
Calvert Cliffs first went online with Unit 1 in 1975; the second unit came online two years later. At the turn of the century, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted Calvert Cliffs an extension on its operating license that will permit the facility to continue operations through 2020. In 2007, the company submitted an application for the construction of a third unit, which has run into some opposition from the local community; as of this writing, the application is still pending.
For all its drawbacks in terms of danger from radioactive waste, nuclear energy offers several advantages in terms of air and water quality as well as employee health, since the toxic emissions associated with fossil fuels are not present. However, nuclear plants share one hazard in common with all the rest; asbestos-containing materials.
Asbestos fibers, which have been used extensively in the construction of electrical energy generation plants due to their resistance to both heat and electrical current, are unlikely to pose a major health hazard to the general public. However, they have been proven to be a serious health risk to those who work inside them.
A Puerto Rican research study carried out in 2003 and published in 2007 showed that thirteen percent of the power plant workers examined as having the signs of asbestos disease, even when factors such as tobacco use were eliminated from the data. This asbestos insulation was used in fire doors, around conduits and inside the machinery itself.
Although harmless in its solid state, such asbestos insulation tends to become brittle with age and begins to crumble into dust. In this condition, it is called friable; asbestos dust is released into the environment, where it is not only inhaled by workers, but can settle in the hair and on the clothing. This has been proven to subject family members to secondary exposure when such asbestos materials are carried into the home.
The hazards of asbestos were suspected by medical science as early as 1900; by the 1930s, the asbestos industry was well aware of them. However, this knowledge was kept secret from the public until the discovery of the “Sumner Simpson Papers” in 1977, which exposed a four-decade long conspiracy on the part of corporations that manufactured and marketed such materials.
Asbestos disease typically has a long latency period. By the time symptoms are apparent, it is usually too late for anything other than palliative treatments. Former employees who worked at Calvert Cliffs as well as their family members should discuss asbestos exposure with their family doctors and get ongoing health monitoring if possible.
With its resistance to heat, flame and electrical current, asbestos was often used throughout almost all job sites across the country. It is ironic that reducing the risk of injury was almost always one of the driving justifications behind using asbestos in companies because the result was in fact to put people at risk of serious illness or death due to contact with asbestos. The reason so many people have fallen ill from health conditions including pleural plaques and cancer of the lungs is that when humans inhale asbestos strands, the mineral remains in internal organs; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage cells. Furthermore, workplace contact with asbestos is a known cause of the deadly form of cancer called mesothelioma, which affects the cells that line the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma). Mesothelioma chemotherapy is available for some patients from doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.
Today, regulators understand the risks of being exposed to asbestos, and responsible employers ensure the well-being of employees whose jobs put them in contact with this dangerous substance. In the past, however, workers without respiratory equipment frequently toiled in places where asbestos dust filled the air. Family members were also subjected to asbestos exposure when workplaces failed to provide ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, because workers carried asbestos particles home with them on their clothes or in their hair.
As conditions like mesothelioma often don't manifest until decades after asbestos exposure first occurs, people who were employed at contaminated plants, as well as their family members, are encouraged to talk about their history of exposure to asbestos with their doctors regardless of how far in the past they worked there.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America. 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.
Evans, David and Greg Johnstone. “Asbestos Use Companies and Locations in Maryland.” All About Malignant Mesothelioma, September 2005.