Located in Plymouth, Pilgrim Station is currently Massachusetts' only nuclear power plant. Constructed in 1972 by the Bechtel Corporation for Boston Edison, the GE-designed reactor unit generates 690 megawatts, providing electrical power for just under 600,000 residences and small businesses.
The plant was taken over by Entergy in 1999. Pilgrim's current operating license expires in 2012. Currently, an application to extend the license to 2032 is pending with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There has been some opposition to this from the local community as well as the Massachusetts Attorney General, primarily over the issue of waste disposal; since the Yucca Mountain facility is no longer available, spent fuel rods must be stored on-site, creating a potential environmental hazard.
Although the use of asbestos building materials and insulation materials has largely been phased out over the past three decades, asbestos exposure is still very much an issue. This is particularly true of power plant workers. The reason is that most asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma, have very lengthy latency periods. In some cases, it can be as much as sixty years between the time a person is exposed to asbestos and the development of noticeable symptoms.
In 2003, doctors in Puerto Rico examined the x-rays of 1100 power plant workers. After accounting for tobacco use, over 130 of the x-rays showed signs indicative of asbestos disease.
The risk of disease also increases with time and intensity of asbestos exposure. Power generation facilities such as Pilgrim were jobsites in which friable (crumbling) asbestos was to be found in numerous areas of the structure, and even within the machinery itself. These loose fibers were not only inhaled by workers, they became lodged in hair and clothing, entering the home and exposing family members to secondary asbestos hazards.
Anyone who has worked at Pilgrim, particularly in the early days, should discuss the possibility of asbestos disease with their primary care physicians and arrange for regular health screening if possible. New diagnostic tools now enable pathologists to detect the early markers of asbestos cancer; prognosis even for mesothelioma is much better if the disease can be treated in its earliest stages. Mesothelioma chemotherapy is available for some patients and can be provided by medical professionals such as Dr. David Sugarbaker at Harvard University's Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
This site was one of numerous factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, throughout the first seven decades of the 20th century, utilized the naturally occurring mineral known as asbestos because of its ability to withstand electrical current. Although asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly protected people from injury and even death, the eventual results of its use were devastating, as numerous employees contracted serious illness due to asbestos exposure. The reason is that particles of asbestos, if inhaled, damage internal organs, leading to life-threatening diseases such as pleural plaques and cancer. The most deadly of the asbestos-related diseases is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the cells lining the chest cavity; it is almost always a death sentence for those who contract it.
Because researchers have demonstrated the relationship between inhaling asbestos and illnesses like asbestosis, present-day laborers are protected by laws that prescribe how asbestos is used. People who labored around asbestos before such rules were implemented, however, commonly spent their work days in locations where asbestos was prevalent, and they typically were provided with little or no training regarding how to work safely with the substance. Furthermore, if companies did not offer decontamination methods, employees took strands of asbestos home on their clothes or in their hair, which exposed others in their household to this deadly toxin.
Since asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma often do not appear until a very long time after asbestos exposure first occurs, people who had jobs at contaminated plants, as well as those who lived with them, should discuss their history of exposure to asbestos with their medical care providers regardless of how long ago they worked there.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.
Entergy Corporate Website. “Pilgrim Power Plant.”