The W. H. Sammis Power Plant is one of many coal-fired power plants in the state of Ohio, located near the town of Stratton. Currently operated by FirstEnergy, the first unit came online in 1959; seven more were added over the next twelve years.
Coal-fired plants are notorious for their polluting emissions; Sammis was a defendant in an environmental lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1999. Current attempts to deal with air quality issues are currently being undertaken, however.
Asbestos has been a problem associated with all types of electrical generation plants – particularly those constructed prior to 1980. Prior to that time, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used extensively throughout the construction of power generation plants as well as other industries. The reasons have to do with the hazards typically encountered in such facilities: flame, heat and electricity, and caustic substances. “Blue” crocidolite asbestos is a particularly effective electrical insulator; it is also one of the deadliest varieties of asbestos, known to cause mesothelioma.
ACMs were employed in virtually everything from flame-retardant paint to the very machinery used to generate power. It was particularly hazardous in this context, as the moving parts could eject millions of fibers into the building environment. This was dangerous not only for workers who inhaled such fibers, but their family members as well when fibers that had settled in workers' hair and clothing were brought into the home resulted in secondary exposure.
A research study in Puerto Rico involved the examination of chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers. Signs of asbestos disease was noted in over 130 of the images. Power plants are regarded by industrial medicine experts as some of the most hazardous industrial worksites for asbestos exposure.
Asbestos was not only a hazard to the worker, but to his family as well; asbestos fibers could be carried home in a worker's hair and clothing, subjecting family members to what is known as “secondary exposure.” There are several documented cases of a family member developing pleural mesothelioma as the result of this type of exposure.
Current and former employees of the Cape Canaveral facility should discuss the possibilities of exposure with their family physicians and get frequent checkups if possible. Although mesothelioma is deadly, it can be treated if caught in the early stages. Fortunately, new technologies have made it possible for pathologists to detect the “markers” indicating the early stages of mesothelioma before symptoms become apparent. However, such cancer can recur, and lifetime screening and health monitoring is usually necessary.
This facility was one of countless factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, during much of the 1900s, utilized the fibrous mineral asbestos for its ability to insulate against heat. Although asbestos' abilities as an insulator certainly saved lives, the unforeseen consequences of its use were tragic: far too many men and women suffered serious illness and even died from asbestos exposure. The reason so many employees have become ill from illnesses including pleural plaques and lung cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos strands, the mineral remains in the lungs; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage cells. In addition, mesothelioma, the rare but deadly cancer affecting the cells that line the chest cavity, is linked with mild to moderate inhalation of asbestos particles.
Employees whose jobs put them in contact with asbestos today are generally protected from inhalation because of the extensive body of rules controlling its use, presence at job sites and disposal. People who worked near asbestos-containing materials before such rules were implemented, however, commonly spent their shifts in spaces where asbestos microfibers were prevalent, and they as a rule received very little guidance concerning how to work safely with the mineral. Spouses and children were also subjected to asbestos exposure when employers did not offer workplace-only uniforms, as workers took asbestos dust to their homes in their clothes and hair.
Because asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma often do not develop until 20 years or more after a person first is exposed to asbestos, those who worked at exposed sites, as well as their family members, are advised to talk about their history of asbestos exposure with their medical care providers regardless of how long ago they worked there. Workers who may have been exposed to asbestos negligently are encouraged to 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.
FirstEnergy. “W. H. Sammis Plant: Facts at a Glance.”