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R.S. Nelson Station Powerhouse

Located in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Nelson Station Powerhouse provides electric services to residences and businesses in this community located approximately 100 miles west of New Orleans.

The Nelson Powerhouse was only one of many industrial operations of the last century in which asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used as a flame retardant and insulator. Industrial health and safety experts have long stated that power plant workers run some of the highest risk of asbestos disease of any industry. A 2003 study from Puerto Rico that was first published in 2007 has confirmed this. Doctors took chest x-rays of 1100 power plant workers that were then examined and analyzed. When tobacco use was taken into account, more than 130 of the images showed early indications of asbestos disease.

At the Nelson facility, these materials were likely to be used in:

  • fire doors
  • electrical cloth
  • pipe fittings and conduits
  • insulation
  • gasket materials
  • turbines and other machinery

As such material ages and deteriorates, it becomes “friable;” that is to say, it crumbles into dust that is inhaled and ingested. Settling in hair and clothing, power plant employees could even unknowingly expose their families to asbestos by bringing it into the home.

The connection between asbestos and cancer has been known to corporations that manufactured asbestos products since the 1930s. However, this information was well-hidden from the public until 1977, when papers were discovered revealing the existence of a conspiracy of silence between Raysbestos, W.R. Grace, Johns-Manville and other major players in the asbestos industry. In addition to a flood of litigation that has cost billions of dollars, this has also resulted in strict regulations both on the Federal and State levels that have forced industries to provide warnings, training and protection to workers who may be exposed to asbestos.

Because mesothelioma – a deadly form of asbestos cancer – has a very long latency period and is difficult to diagnose, anyone who was employed at the Martin Drake Power Plant as well as those who lived with them should tell their family physicians. Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases can be difficult to distinguish from those of other disorders, but new diagnostic tools can reveal “markers” that indicate the earliest stages of mesothelioma, when treatments, like mesothelioma chemotherapy, are more effective. Doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA. can administer such treatments.

Given its high resistance to transferring heat and electricity, the mineral asbestos was used frequently within almost all work sites all over the US. It is ironic that protecting lives was generally one of the main justifications behind utilizing asbestos in places for the result was in fact to place workers in danger of serious illness or death due to contact with asbestos. The health conditions caused by exposure to asbestos include asbestosis and cancer; the biggest risk of developing these conditions occurs when asbestos-containing materials become fragile, releasing microfibers into the environment where they are available to inhale. Furthermore, job-related asbestos exposure is the primary cause of the almost always fatal form of cancer called mesothelioma, which affects the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (pericardial mesothelioma).

Because researchers have demonstrated the relationship between asbestos exposure and illnesses such as asbestosis, present-day laborers are protected by laws that control how asbestos is handled. Even as late as the 1970s, however, workers unprotected by masks or other safety equipment often toiled in areas where asbestos dust filled the air. Spouses and children were also exposed to asbestos if employers failed to offer workplace-only uniforms, as workers carried asbestos dust home with them on their clothes or in their hair.

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses can take 20 years or more to develop, and the signs of these illnesses can be difficult to distinguish from those of other conditions, so those who worked at these installations in the past, as well as family members of such workers, are advised to talk with their doctors about their history of asbestos contact.

Sources

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.

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