The Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station is located on the Susquehanna River 50 miles southeast of Harrisburg. The facility was originally financed by the Philadelphia Electric Company in 1958. Unit 1, and experimental helium-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor, came online in 1966. It was replaced by two General Electric boiling water reactors in 1974. Licensed to operate until 2034, the two GE units have a total generative capacity of over 3.5 gigawatts. It is operated by the Exelon Corporation, which has a 50% ownership interest in the plant. The other 50% is owned by Public Service Enterprise Group Power LLC.
As was the case for virtually every industry constructed and operating before 1980, the use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) was common throughout the construction of power generation facilities. They were employed in numerous locations that included the buildings themselves as well as the machinery. Asbestos is resistant not only to heat and flame, but caustic chemicals and electrical current as well. Over the years, the use of ACMs has saved lives and prevented billions of dollars in property loss.
A 2003 study by doctors in Puerto Rico showed signs of asbestos disease in 13% of subjects studied; all of these had been employed at power plants in that country.
Asbestos disease is relatively rare, but also painful and invariably fatal. The industrial health hazards were well known to ACM manufacturers by the 1930s, but the knowledge was kept a secret for over forty years before a court case in 1977 exposed the corporate conspiracy.
Today, strong regulations issued by the EPA and OSHA require companies operating any kind of industry to provide a safe work environment where asbestos is concerned. Violations can result in large monetary fines and other penalties; individuals responsible may also face prison time.
Asbestos diseases typically have very long latency periods. Symptoms may not appear for as much as sixty years after a person is first exposed to asbestos. Former employees of the McClellan facility as well as their families should discuss the possibility of asbestos exposure with their primary care doctors; early diagnosis is the key to long-term survival.
Given its high resistance to transferring heat and electricity, asbestos (which occurs in forms such as chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite) was frequently used within numerous industrial sites all over the US. It is ironic that reducing the risk of injury was generally one of the driving reasons behind utilizing asbestos in companies for the outcome was actually to place workers at risk of serious illness due to exposure to asbestos. The reason so many workers have fallen ill from diseases including "miner's lung" and cancer of the lungs is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos strands, the mineral remains in respiratory passages; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage organs. In addition, mesothelioma, the fast-growing and mostly untreatable cancer affecting the cells that line the chest cavity, is associated with mild to moderate exposure to asbestos.
Now, we understand the risks of being exposed to asbestos, and health and safety statutes ensure the well-being of people whose jobs put them in contact with this potentially lethal mineral. People who worked around job sites constructed with asbestos before such laws were passed, on the other hand, commonly spent their work days in sites where asbestos fibers were prevalent, and they typically were provided with very little training concerning how to minimize risks when dealing with the substance. Moreover, employees took asbestos strands home on their work clothes when showers were not provided at the workplace; the consequence of this was that the carcinogen also endangered anyone living with those who worked around asbestos.
Men and women who worked at this site at any time in their job history, as well as their spouses and children, are encouraged to learn more about these health conditions and tell their family doctors about their history of exposure to asbestos, because the signs of pleural mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses can be mistaken for those of other, less serious conditions. Those who may have been negligently exposed should seek legal guidance from 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.
Exelon Corporate Website. “Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station.”