The Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station is located near Port Gibson, Mississippi. The facility is owned jointly by System Energy Resources, Inc. and South Mississippi Electric Power Association, and is operated by Entergy Nuclear. The plant's single reactor was designed and constructed by General Electric.
All types of power plants from coal-fired to hydro-powered have historically made extensive use of asbestos insulation. The reason is that asbestos is resistant to heat and flame as well as electrical current. While asbestos-containing materials may have saved lives and prevented massive property loss over the past century, those who contracted asbestos diseases have suffered disproportionately.
Asbestos illness was shown to be a serious work-related hazard for power plant employees when in 2003, a Puerto Rican medical research team examined chest x-rays from 1100 such workers. 13% of the x-rays showed indications of asbestos disease.
Machinery that includes generators, boilers and turbine combustion engines as well as thermal control devices have all been insulated with asbestos at a time when the health hazards of asbestos were kept secret from the general public by the corporations that manufactured and marketed asbestos products. The truth was finally revealed in 1977, when the infamous “Sumner Simpson Papers” were discovered in the corporate office of Raysbestos, Inc. The evidence proved the existence of a cover-up going back to the 1930s.
Today, the EPA and OSHA have issued strict regulations to protect workers as well as the handling of asbestos in general. However, asbestos diseases take decades to become apparent, at which time they have reached an advanced stage.
Thanks to new diagnostic methods, pathologists today are able to detect the early signs of asbestos disease. Former power plant employees should discuss asbestos exposure with their primary care physicians and be checked as often as possible.
During much of the last century, it was standard practice for industrial sites of all types to be constructed with asbestos because it provided high resistance to heat and electricity. While using asbestos was intended in many cases to protect human life, it sadly all too often had the opposite effect. Exposure to asbestos while on the job has resulted in serious illness for untold numbers employees. The reason is that asbestos fibers, when inhaled, embed themselves into the lungs, leading to life-threatening illnesses such as pleural plaques and cancer. Furthermore, job-related exposure to asbestos is a known cause of the almost always fatal form of cancer called mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma). When detected early the cancer can be treated with mesothelioma chemotherapy by doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.
Today, regulators are aware of the dangers associated with inhaling asbestos, and health and safety statutes protect people who work with or near friable asbestos. In the past, however, laborers unprotected by masks or other safety equipment all too often toiled in areas where asbestos dust filled the air. Family members were also exposed to asbestos if workplaces didn't offer workplace-only uniforms, as employees inadvertently transported asbestos home on their clothes or in their hair.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses can take a very long time to appear, and the signs of these illnesses are often mistaken for those of less serious conditions, so those who were employed at these installations at any time in their job history, as well as their family members, should talk with their medical care providers about their history of exposure to asbestos.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.
Energy Information Agency. “Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant, Mississippi.”