With the closing of Connecticut Yankee, the Millstone Nuclear Power Station is the only nuclear power generation site in the state of Connecticut. Its two currently operative units have a total generative capacity of over 2 gigawatts. Coolant water is drawn from the waters of Niantic Bay off Long Island Sound.
Millstone site was placed on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Watchlist in 1996 after employee whistleblowers who had raised safety issues had suffered retaliatory action on the part of management. Nonetheless, all three reactors were shut down for over a year pending remediation of safety issues. Today, it has been recognized by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration for superior workplace safety.
Whether nuclear, fossil-fueled or hydro-powered, all electrical generation facilities constructed prior to 1980 have had asbestos exposure issues.
Asbestos is more than a flame retardant; the “blue” and “brown” varieties most likely to cause asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma are also excellent electrical insulators. Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively throughout the construction of power plants prior to 1980. Some of the areas in which asbestos-containing materials were found include:
- fire doors
- electrical cloth
- pipe fittings and conduits
- gasket materials
- turbines and other machinery
Power generation plant workers are at high risk from asbestos exposure and are substantially more likely to contract disease such as mesothelioma. In 2003, Puerto Rican researchers analyzed the chest x-rays of 1,100 workers who had worked at least fifteen years in such a facility. 13% of the images showed signs of asbestos disease.
This has also been an issue for the family members of power plant workers; asbestos fibers could become lodged in clothing and in hair. Thus carried into the home, it resulted in what is known as “secondary exposure” to spouses and children, some of whom developed asbestos cancer themselves later in life.
Those who were employed at a power generation plant prior to 1980 as well as their families should have regular health screenings if possible and discuss the asbestos exposure with their primary care physician. When diagnosed and treated early, asbestos cancer patients have a much better mesothelioma prognosis, although cancer that has been removed can recur; in most cases, lifetime monitoring is necessary.
Through the 1970s, it was usual for many industrial facilities to be constructed with the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because of its resistance to heat, flame and electrical current. It is ironic that protecting human life was typically one of the main justifications behind utilizing asbestos in worksites because the outcome was actually to place laborers in danger of serious illness or death due to asbestos exposure. The disorders associated with exposure to asbestos include "miner's lung" and lung cancer; the biggest chance of developing these conditions happens when materials containing asbestos become fragile, releasing particles into the environment where they are easy to inhale. The most serious of the asbestos-linked disorders is mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the chest cavity; it is a disease that usually kills within two years of diagnosis.
Because medical science has shown the relationship between being exposed to asbestos and illnesses like lung cancer, modern-day laborers are protected by state and federal guidelines that prescribe how asbestos is to be handled. Even up to the late 1900s, however, laborers often were forced to operate in spaces in which airborne asbestos was unfiltered; in many cases, the dangers posed by asbestos inhalation were little understood. Spouses and children were also exposed to asbestos when employers didn't provide showers, as workers carried asbestos home on their clothes or in their hair.
Because health conditions like lung cancer and mesothelioma disease don't manifest until many years after asbestos exposure first occurs, men and women who worked at exposed sites, as well as those who lived with them, are encouraged to discuss their history of contact with asbestos with their physicians regardless of how long ago they worked there.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.
Pooley, Eric. “Nuclear Warriors.” Time (4 March 1996).
PR Newswire. “Millstone Receives OSHA Recognition for Workplace Safety” (14 October 2004).