The McGuire Nuclear Station is located on the shores of Lake Norman, which is an artificial lake constructed in 1963 for a hydroelectric facility. The two pressurized water reactors were designed and built by Westinghouse, and have a total generative capacity of 2.2 gigawatts.
The facility is currently owned and operated by the Duke Energy Corporation. The two units have been licensed for operation through 2021 (Unit 1) and 2023 (Unit 2).
Power generation facilities constructed before the early 1980s were likely to have incorporated massive amounts of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) throughout the building and machinery. Asbestos was used primarily because of their resistance to fire and heat; however, crocidolite asbestos (also known as “blue” asbestos) is also effective as a form of electrical insulation. This type of asbestos is one of the most toxic varieties known; although all types of asbestos are known to play a part in the development of lung cancer, crocidolite and amosite (“brown” asbestos) work much faster in causing the cellular mutations that result in cancers such as mesothelioma.
ACMs were common building materials in any event, but in power plants, they were found any or all of the following locations:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
In moving machinery such as turbines, ACMs created a particular hazard by ejecting millions of asbestos fibers into the air, where they were not only inhaled and ingested, but settled in worker's hair and on their clothing as well. Tragically, they unknowingly brought these fibers into their homes, where secondary exposure to family members resulted. There are several documented cases in which wives and children developed pleural mesothelioma as a result of such exposure.
In 2003, medical researchers in Puerto Rico examined chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers. The results of the study, published in 2007, showed that there were indications of asbestos disease in 13% of the subjects. Power plants such as Bailey are regarded by industrial health experts as the most hazardous of industrial jobsites when it comes to asbestos.
If you or a family member have ever been employed at Maguire, it is important to discuss this with your primary care doctor and get regular health screenings as well. Recent advances in biotechnology have enabled pathologists to detect protein “markers” in the blood that indicate the early stages of mesothelioma. When detected in its early stages, mesothelioma is highly treatable, although the disease can recur later and lifelong health monitoring is usually necessary.
Through the 1970s, it was extremely common for industrial sites of all types to be constructed with the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because it provided high resistance to heat and electricity. Although asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly protected people and property in the short term, the unintended consequences of using it were tragic, and thousands of workers contracted serious illness from asbestos exposure. The illnesses linked to asbestos exposure include asbestosis and cancer of the lungs; the biggest risk of developing these conditions occurs when asbestos-containing products become fragile, releasing microfibers into the air where they are easy to inhale or ingest. The most deadly of the asbestos-linked illnesses is mesothelioma, a cancer that involves the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the chest cavity; it is a disease that usually kills within two years of diagnosis.
Because research has demonstrated the link between inhaling asbestos and illnesses like lung cancer, today's laborers are protected by state and federal guidelines that prescribe how asbestos is to be handled. Even up to the last part of the 20th century, however, laborers often were expected to toil in spaces in which asbestos dust was unfiltered; in many cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were little understood. Moreover, employees brought dust containing asbestos to their homes on their work clothes when showers weren't offered at the workplace; the consequence of this was that the potentially deadly mineral also put at risk offspring of those who worked around asbestos.
People who were employed at this site at any time in the past, as well as their spouses and children, should learn more about these health conditions and inform their healthcare professionals about their history of exposure to asbestos, because the signs of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses can be difficult to distinguish from those of other, less serious conditions. Those who think they may have been negligently exposed should contact a mesothelioma attorney.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. “McGuire Nuclear Station, North Carolina.”