The Oyster Creek nuclear power station is a single-unit facility owned and operated by Exelon Corporation. First becoming operative in 1969, the boiling water reactor is the oldest active nuclear plant in the U.S., and is licensed for operation through 2029. The facility has a total generative capacity of just under 620 megawatts.
Radiation leaks are an issue with nuclear plants, but on the whole, these are far less polluting than their coal and oil-fired counterparts. It is estimated that Oyster Creek prevents 7.5 million metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere; in addition, sulfur dioxide, mercury and lead, all associated with coal-fired plants, are not an issue with nuclear facilities.
Asbestos however has been a problem at power plants throughout the Industrial Age. Although these materials were phased out in the construction of industrial facilities during the 1980s, there are still several building products on the market that contain asbestos.
At the time the Oyster Creek facility was built, the health hazards of asbestos were not widely known outside of medical research circles or the boardrooms of corporations that manufactured and marketed asbestos products. Those corporations went to great lengths to suppress such information between the late 1930s and 1977, when evidence of the conspiracy was brought to light during asbestos-related litigation.
Puerto Rican doctors carried out a study in 2003 that confirmed statements on the part of industrial health and safety experts, who had for many years said that power plants pose some of the highest risks of asbestos exposure of any industry. This study examined the chest x-rays of 1100 power plant workers. Over 1300 of these subjects were found to have “abnormalities” that indicated the early stages of asbestos disease.
Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used as insulation throughout the construction of all types of industrial sites as well as power generating facilities through the early 1980s. ACMs were used in any location where heat, flame, electricity and corrosive chemicals posed a hazard. Over time, these materials began to deteriorate and give off asbestos dust. The fibers were inhaled and ingested by employees, they would also become lodged in hair and clothing. This is how asbestos fibers were introduced into the home, where family members were subjected to secondary exposure.
Mesothelioma is notoriously difficult to diagnose; symptoms are similar to those of many other respiratory diseases, and may not appear for decades following initial exposure to asbestos. For this reason, the disease is not normally diagnosed until its late stages, and prognosis is usually grim.
Anyone who worked at the Hallam Nuclear Plant between 1958 and 1964 as well as their family members should inform their primary care physicians about any possible asbestos exposure. New methods are now available that allow pathologists to detect the markers of pleural mesothelioma in its earliest stages when it is most treatable.
Up until the 1980s, it was normal for many industrial facilities to utilize the mineral asbestos because of its resistance to heat, flame and electrical current. It is ironic that reducing the risk of injury was generally one of the main reasons behind utilizing asbestos in companies because the result was in fact to put workers in danger of serious illness due to contact with asbestos. The reason large numbers of workers have fallen ill from illnesses including asbestosis and cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest particles of asbestos, the mineral infiltrates internal organs; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage tissues. In addition, a history of asbestos exposure can cause the extremely hard to treat cancer called mesothelioma, which affects the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Today, we understand the dangers associated with asbestos exposure, and responsible employers ensure the well-being of people who work with or near this potentially lethal mineral. Those who worked around asbestos-containing materials before such laws were passed, on the other hand, usually spent their days in sites where asbestos fibers were prevalent, and they typically were offered very little training about how to work safely with the mineral. Furthermore, if workplaces did not provide showers and decontamination methods, workers inadvertently transported asbestos dust to their homes in their clothes and hair, which exposed family members to this deadly toxin.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses often take a very long time to develop, and symptoms can be mistaken for those of less serious conditions, so people who worked at these sites in the past, as well as family members of such workers, are encouraged to talk with their medical care providers about their history of exposure to asbestos. Works who may have been negligently exposed to asbestos 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. “Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant, New Jersey.”