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Indian Point Powerhouse

History

Asbestos Exposure at Indian Point Powerhouse

The Indian Point Nuclear Powerhouse was owned and constructed by Consolidated Edison (ConEd) in Westchester County, New York approximately 35 miles north of Manhattan. It was the first privately financed, commercial nuclear power plant in all of the United States. The Indian Point Powerhouse was actually made up of three separate power plants, named Plant I, Plant II, and Plant III. Indian Point Nuclear Plant I became operational in 1962, using an experimental pressurized water reactor (PWR). After a steam leak caused water to enter the reactor vessel, Indian Point Nuclear Plant I was shut down in 1974.

Indian Point Nuclear Plant II became operational in 1973, providing 950 MW of energy to the surrounding area. Plant II was run by ConEd until 2001 when it was sold to Entergy Corporation, along with the closed Plant I. Entergy paid $502 million for the two plants as well as $100 million for additional nuclear fuel. There is also an Indian Point Nuclear Plant III, but it was sold to the New York Power Authority in 1975 prior to completion. The New York Power Authority completed construction and continues to run Plant III.

Powerhouse Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

The Indian Point Powerhouse produced an enormous amount of heat and needed cheap and efficient insulation. The solution at the time was asbestos, a natural mineral that was inexpensive and 'fire-proof'. Inside the powerhouse, there were miles of steam piping, as well as boilers, turbine-generators, pumps and other equipment that were assembled and insulated with asbestos. Construction and maintenance caused large amounts of asbestos dust to be thrown into the air. Workers were unaware of the dangers associated with breathing in the dust and just continued to work in the hazardous environment.

Asbestos products would have to be fitted to certain projects based upon size limitations. Some pieces would need to be cut and the pipe insulation would often need to be sanded down. Gaskets were made with or made out of asbestos and these would need to be ground down to fit the limitations. All these processes caused asbestos dust and particles to enter the air.

The asbestos dust was not contained in one specific area, and as a result all who worked within the powerhouse were at risk. Drafts blew the dust around, workers carried it on their clothing, and even the floors were made of metal grating allowing the dust to pass through. It was not until the 1970s that information was presented as to the dangers of breathing asbestos particles and the illnesses associated with it. During the mid 1970s restrictions were made and health codes were created in an effort to protect the workers. However, many had been exposed prior to these changes, including family members who could have breathed the dust off of a loved one's clothing.

Indian Point Powerhouse Workers At Risk for Mesothelioma and Other Asbestos Diseases

By the mid 1970s, strong evidence was uncovered regarding the health dangers associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos. Many who had worked with asbestos for extended periods of time were coming down with pulmonary diseases (such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis) from breathing asbestos dust.

The asbestos-related diseases include:

  • Mesothelioma: a type of cancer only caused by asbestos exposure that attacks the lining around the lungs and/or heart and/or abdomen. This cancer is not in the organs themselves, though untreated it will spread. The most common form is pleural mesothelioma (lung lining), then peritoneal mesothelioma (stomach lining), and then pericardial mesothelioma (heart lining).

  • Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer: while lung cancer can come from numerous sources, asbestos exposure can lead to the formation of a malignant tumor that blocks the air passages (common for smokers who were exposed to asbestos).

  • Asbestosis: a pulmonary condition, only caused by exposure to asbestos, where scar tissue builds up in the lungs causing breathing problems and low blood flow.

The diseases associated with asbestos are similar in that their symptoms often do not appear for many years after exposure. It is not uncommon for someone to develop lung cancer after a 10 year lag between onset and initial exposure. Mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis often do not become apparent for nearly 30 or 40 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. Common symptoms include: difficulty breathing, chest pains, a dry hacking cough that sometimes contained blood.

The health problems associated with asbestos were not just isolated to people who worked with the product. The asbestos dust would spread easily through the air putting workers who never used it at risk. Family members were also at risk because workers would return home with the dust on their clothes, shoes and even hair.

There are different treatments available for patients suffering asbestos-related cancers and diseases. These include, but are not limited to: chemotherapy and certain medications including Lovastatin which can be used as an antineoplastic agent preventing the growth of certain cancerous tumors, and Alimta® (also called Pemetrexed) which has been approved by the F.D.A. as a mesothelioma treatment.

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