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St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant

The Saint Lucie Nuclear Power Plant was built on an island just off Florida's Atlantic coast about 90 miles north of Miami near Fort Pierce. The first of its two generating units came online in 1976, and the second seven years later. Today, the facility has a generative capacity of 1700 megawatts, furnishing power to half a million homes and businesses in the region.

Although nuclear plants have their own specific hazards, they do not generate the same kinds of toxic wastes that are associated with coal and oil-fired plants. One hazardous substance that all older power plants contain however is asbestos.

Because St. Lucie was constructed primarily during the 1970s – and because of its very nature – there is a high probability that St. Lucie has been an asbestos site. In most industries, asbestos insulation was sprayed onto machinery, pipes and electrical conduits. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were also present in the gasket materials used for pipe fittings, valves and pumps. Paints and flooring as well as wall board (an asbestos-impregnated form of concrete known as transite) and building insulation were all made with large amounts of ACMs.

As this insulation ages, it begins to crumble, or become friable. Since the dangers of asbestos has been known (the information finally came out in 1977 after a forty-year corporate cover-up), asbestos in power plants has either been removed or sealed up with resin compounds. In addition, both the EPA and OHSA have issued strong worker-protection rules; approved respirators and even HAZMAT must be available to workers whose duties requires them to carry out tasks in known or suspected asbestos hazard areas.

Virtually everyone today has been exposed to some amount of asbestos; it normally requires high concentrations over a lengthy period of time in order for asbestos disease to develop. Other factors that determine asbestos disease risk include tobacco use and family history of cancer.

A solid diagnosis is necessary in order to recover damages successfully, especially if it is mesothelioma. According to all current research, asbestos exposure is the only documented cause of mesothelioma; the defense will argue for a misdiagnosis.

It is also important to gather as much information about the exposure as you can. Legally, the plaintiff's counsel must demonstrate direct cause due to exposure to a specific product.

Through the 1970s, it was usual for industrial sites of all types to be constructed with the mineral asbestos because of its resistance to heat, flame and electrical current. While the use of asbestos was intended to reduce the risk of injury, it sadly ended up with the opposite effect: exposure to asbestos while on the job has resulted in illness and death for thousands of people. The reason so many employees have become ill from health conditions 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, which is a nearly always fatal cancer affecting the cells that line the chest cavity, is linked with mild to moderate inhalation of asbestos particles. Therefore early detection is key to an encouraging mesothelioma prognosis.

Those whose job sites contain asbestos today are generally protected from exposure because of the many rules controlling its use, presence at job sites and disposal. In earlier days, however, workers often were expected to toil in areas in which asbestos dust was unfiltered; in many cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were little understood. And if workplaces didn't provide facilities to wash off asbestos fibers, employees took asbestos home with them in their work garments, thereby exposing spouses and children to this deadly toxin.

Asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma disease often take decades to develop, and the signs of these illnesses can be difficult to distinguish from those of less serious conditions, so those who worked at these jobsites at any time in their job history, as well as those who lived with them, are advised to talk with their doctors about their history of asbestos contact.

Sources

Sources

Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception. (New York: Touchstone, 2003)

Florida Power and Light. “About Saint Lucie.”
www.fpl.com/environment/nuclear/about_st_lucie.shtml

United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry . “Asbestos Toxicity. Where is Asbestos Found?”
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/asbestos/where_found2.html

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