The Perry Nuclear Power Plant is on the south shore of Lake Erie 40 miles northeast of Cleveland, Ohio in the community of North Perry. The facility is owned and operated by the First Energy Nuclear Operating Corporation. Its single GE reactor has a generative capacity of well over 3.7 gigawatts. A second unit had been under construction in the mid 1980s, but the project was suspended and officially canceled in 1994.
Power plants are the most hazardous work sites for asbestos exposure. Prior to 1980, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used at virtually every type of industry. Asbestos manufacturers had been well aware of the health hazards of asbestos since the 1930s, but had withheld this information from the general public until it was uncovered by a litigator in 1977.
Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively throughout the construction of power plants prior to 1980. 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. 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
When these materials became friable (a crumbling state in which fibers are released into the environment), the resulting asbestos dust was not only inhaled, but could become lodged in workers' hair and clothing, subjecting unsuspecting family members to the hazards of secondary exposure.
In 2003, medical researchers in Puerto Rico examined chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers. Signs of asbestos disease were seen in 13% of the subjects. Power plants are considered to be among the most hazardous industrial jobsites when it comes to asbestos by industrial safety experts. Those who were employed at such facilities prior to the early 1980s should discuss this with a medical professional if possible and receive frequent check-ups. Asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma have long latency periods; symptoms may not be apparent until several decades after such exposure.
The good news is that recent advances in medical technology have enabled pathologists to detect the “markers” of asbestos cancer in its earliest stages, when it is treatable. The disease can recur later however, and lifelong health monitoring is usually necessary.
Because of its resistance to heat, flame and electrical current, asbestos was used frequently in almost all work sites throughout the US. It is ironic that protecting human life was generally one of the primary reasons for utilizing asbestos in companies for the result was in fact to place people at risk of serious illness due to asbestos exposure. The disorders linked to exposure to asbestos include pleural plaques and lung cancer; the greatest risk of developing these conditions happens when asbestos-containing materials become fragile, releasing particles into the air where they are easy to inhale or ingest. In addition, workplace contact with asbestos can cause the deadly cancer called mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Now, we are much more knowledgeable about the dangers associated with being exposed to asbestos, and health and safety statutes protect those who work with or near this dangerous substance. However, in the past, laborers without protective equipment frequently toiled in areas where asbestos dust filled the air. Spouses and children were also exposed to asbestos if employers did not provide workplace-only uniforms, as employees took asbestos particles home with them on their skin or in their hair.
Those who worked here during their career, as well as their spouses and children, should find out about these health conditions and inform their healthcare professionals about their history of asbestos contact, because the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases like pleural mesothelioma can be mistaken for those of less serious conditions. Workers who may have been exposed negligently should seek legal counsel 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.
"Perry Nuclear Power Plant, Ohio". Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). October 3, 2008.
http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/at_a_glance/reactors/perry.html. Retrieved on 2008-11-21.