The Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant is located in Fort Pierce, Florida. Four units, all of which were online by 1973, have a total generative capacity of 1.4 megawatts, sufficient to supply the electrical needs of 450,000 homes and small businesses.
Nuclear plants have environmental issues, but do not emit the same toxins associated with coal and oil-fired power generation facilities. However, all power plants, whether nuclear, fossil fuel or hydro share asbestos hazards, however; asbestos has long been associated with such facilities as well as other heavy industries.
While asbestos was unlikely to affect the general public, power plant employees are among those industrial workers at greatest risk for developing asbestos diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. This was demonstrated in a 2003 Puerto Rican medical study, in which chest x-rays of 1100 power plant workers were taken and examined for abnormalities. After factoring out cigarette smoking, it was discovered that over 130 of the x-rays showed early signs of asbestos disease. According to industrial health and safety experts, power generation plants are among the worst industrial worksites for asbestos exposure.
The reason is not only because asbestos is an excellent flame retardant; it is an excellent form of electrical insulation as well, particularly the “blue” crocidolite variety. Such asbestos was used in several places:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
Crocidolite is considered an exceptionally potent form of asbestos; its hard, spear-like fibers can drill straight through lung and other tissues, causing cells to mutate at the DNA level and become malignant.
The tragedy is compounded when one considers secondary exposure to family members. This resulted when power plant workers unwittingly brought asbestos fibers home in their hair and on their clothing.
Those who were themselves employed at Turkey Point or had a family member who worked at there at any point in the past should tell their primary care physician and arrange to get frequent checkups if possible. Although mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose, recent advances in biotechnology allow pathologists to detect the early signs of such cancers when they are still treatable and mesothelioma prognosis is most hopeful.
Up until the 1980s, it was usual for industrial sites of all types to use asbestos because of its insulating properties. Although asbestos' abilities as an insulator certainly saved lives, the eventual results of using it were horrible, as far too many men and women developed serious illness due to inhalation of or other contact with asbestos. The health conditions caused by exposure to asbestos include "miner's lung" and lung cancer; the biggest chance of developing these conditions happens when asbestos-containing materials become fragile, releasing microfibers into the environment where they are available to inhale. Also, a history of asbestos exposure is a known cause of the almost always fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma disease, which develops as a tumor of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Employees who work with asbestos now are usually safe from contact because of the extensive body of laws regulating its utilization, presence at job sites and demolition. However, in the past, laborers unprotected by masks or other safety equipment frequently toiled in places thick with asbestos dust. Family members were also subjected to asbestos exposure when workplaces did not provide workplace-only uniforms, because workers inadvertently transported asbestos dust home in their work garments.
Diseases such as mesothelioma frequently take 20 years or more to develop, and the signs of these illnesses can be mistaken for those of other conditions, so men and women who were employed at such facilities in the past, as well as their family members, should chat with their physicians about their history of asbestos exposure.Sources
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.
Florida Power and Light (2009). About Turkey Point.
United States Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Asbestos Toxicity. Where is Asbestos Found?”