The Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is located near Wiscasset, Maine on the Bailey Peninsula. Coming online in 1972, the plant was shut down in 1996 when it was determined that the cost of repairs and maintenance would outstrip the plant's ability to turn of profit, in addition to the fact that deregulation had allowed for neighboring states to furnish electricity to Maine residents at lower rates.
The half-billion dollar decommissioning process commenced in 1997 and continued through 2005. Currently, the land is unusable due to the presence of 1400 spent uranium fuel rods that cannot be removed due to political issues with the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. It is estimated that removal of nuclear waste cannot take place much earlier than 2025.
All power plant facilities built prior to the 1980s, regardless of whether they run on fossil fuels, uranium or the movement of water, have asbestos issues.
Use of asbestos-containing materials were gradually phased out starting in 1980, largely due to the revelation in a court case three years earlier that demonstrated a corporate conspiracy among Raysbestos, W.R. Grace and Johns-Manville – all major manufacturers of asbestos products – to hide information about the health effects of their products from the general public.
Prior to that time however, power generation facilities normally contained large amounts of asbestos insulation. Asbestos is resistant not only to heat and flame, but electrical current as well. Generators, boilers and turbine combustion engines and thermal control devices were all insulated with asbestos-containing materials as well as pipe and conduit lagging, electrical cloth and junction boxes.
Asbestos illness has been established as a work-related hazard for those employed at power generation facilities. In a Puerto Rican study published in 2007, over 130 out of 1100 chest x-rays from such workers showed signs of asbestos disease.
The asbestos hazard was extended to family members as well. Loose asbestos fibers became lodged in workers' hair and clothing, and was unknowingly brought into the home, exposing spouses and offspring who later developed asbestos cancer as a result.
Today, both the EPA and OSHA have issued strict regulations that govern worker safety as well as asbestos issues in general. However, a asbestos disease usually has a very long latency period; symptoms usually take decades to develop, and by the time they are diagnosed, it is usually too late.
The good news is that recent tools have been developed that allow pathologists to detect early signs of asbestos disease; it is therefore important to receive regular checkups if possible if you believe you were exposed to asbestos at a power plant.
This location was one of numerous factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, in most of the 1900s, utilized the naturally occurring mineral known as asbestos for its ability to resist flame. It is ironic that protecting lives was typically one of the main justifications behind utilizing asbestos in places because the outcome was actually to put laborers at risk of serious illness or death due to contact with asbestos. The reason large numbers of people have fallen ill from illnesses such as "miner's lung" and cancer of the lungs is that when humans inhale or ingest strands of asbestos, the mineral remains in the lungs; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage cells. In addition, mesothelioma, a nearly always fatal cancer affecting the cells that line the chest cavity, is known to be caused by mild to moderate exposure to asbestos. While nearly always fatal, the cancer can be treated with mesothelioma chemotherapy by doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker in Boston, MA. at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Because researchers have uncovered the link between asbestos exposure and conditions such as mesothelioma, modern-day employees are protected by state and federal guidelines that prescribe how asbestos is to be handled. Even up to the late 1900s, however, laborers all too often were told to toil in areas in which air filled with asbestos dust was not filtered; in many cases, safety procedures were not explained. In addition, workers took asbestos home in their work garments when change rooms weren't offered at the company; the consequence of this was that the potentially deadly mineral also endangered wives and husbands of those who worked near asbestos.
People who were employed here during their career, as well as their family members, should learn more about these health conditions and inform their family doctors about their history of contact with asbestos, because the signs of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma can be difficult to distinguish from those of other, less serious conditions.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.
Maine Yankee Website.