The Susquehanna Nuclear Power Plant is a two-unit facility located along the river of the same name in eastern Pennsylvania. An application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a twenty-year extension of its operation license is currently under review.
Industrial health and safety experts have long stated that power plants are high-risk work environments. In power generation plants, machinery that includes generators, boilers and turbine combustion engines as well as thermal control devices have all been insulated with asbestos, particularly the “blue” crocidolite variety. This type of asbestos is a very efficient electrical insulator; it is also strongly implicated in the development of mesothelioma and other asbestos cancers. Such asbestos-containing materials were also used in fire doors, wallboard, wall insulation, electrical cloth, junction boxes and pipe and conduit lagging.
The dangers of asbestos exposure to power plant workers was highlighted in a 2003 Puerto Rican study, when doctors in that country examined the chest x-rays of 1100 such workers. After accounting for tobacco use, early signs of lung disease were detected in over 130 of the images.
The dangers of asbestos exposure have been known to medical science and the asbestos industry since the late 1930s; however, the asbestos industry itself engaged in a forty-year cover-up of the facts in order to preserve profits at the cost of human life. The conspiracy was exposed in the course of asbestos litigation in 1977 when documentation was discovered in one of the corporate offices.
Today, EPA and OSHA regulations protect workers and govern the handling of asbestos. Violators are subject to fines that can exceed $250,000 in addition to imprisonment for up to five years.
Asbestos diseases can take as long as fifty to sixty years to become apparent, at which time the disease is usually far advanced. However, thanks to new diagnostic methods, today's pathologists can detect the early “markers” of asbestos cancer. Former power plant employees should discuss asbestos exposure with their family doctor and get frequent checkups.
As health conditions like asbestosis and mesothelioma may not appear until many years after a person first is exposed to asbestos, people who worked at Ft. Myers Power Plant, as well as their family members, should talk about their history of asbestos exposure with their doctors regardless of how long ago they worked there.
Through the 1970s, it was standard practice for plants, mills, and factories to be built with asbestos because it offered high resistance to transferring heat and electricity. While asbestos' abilities as an insulator certainly protected people and property in the short term, the unforeseen results of using it were tragic: numerous laborers suffered serious illness from exposure to asbestos. The reason large numbers of workers have died from illnesses including asbestosis and cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos fibers, the mineral infiltrates internal organs; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage cells. Furthermore, job-related asbestos exposure can cause the extremely hard to treat form of cancer called mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Employees who work with asbestos today are generally safe from exposure due to the extensive body of laws regulating its utilization, presence at job sites and scrapping. Even up to the late 1900s, though, workers frequently were expected to operate in areas in which air filled with asbestos dust was unfiltered; in many cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were unknown. Spouses and children were also subjected to asbestos exposure if employers did not offer ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, as workers carried asbestos home with them on their skin or in their hair.
As health conditions like asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma often don't manifest until a very long time after asbestos exposure first occurs, those who were employed at contaminated plants, as well as their family members, are encouraged to talk about their history of exposure to asbestos with their medical care providers regardless of how far in the past they worked there. Workers who believe they could have been negligently exposed should 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.
PPL Corporate Website. “PPL Susquehanna Welcomes You.”