United Nuclear Corporation is headquartered in Gallup, New Mexico, but incorporated in Delaware. With current annual revenues not exceeding more than $2.5 million, it was nonetheless the largest private producer of uranium in the U.S. prior to 1990. United Nuclear's largest customer was the U.S. Navy.
Naval vessels and nuclear power plants constructed prior to the early 1980s are known to have large amounts of asbestos insulation and other asbestos-containing materials throughout their construction.
The reason is that asbestos offers excellent resistance to heat and flame as well as electrical current. Asbestos-containing materials have indeed saved thousands of lives and prevented massive amounts of property loss over the past century; however, those who contracted asbestos diseases suffered disproportionately.
Asbestos illness was clearly shown to be a serious hazard for power plant employees in a 2003 study carried out by Puerto Rican researchers. The research team examined chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers; once tobacco use was factored out of the equation, indications of asbestos disease were noted in over 13% of the images.
Naval veterans and power plant workers alike are at some of the highest risk for asbestos disease.
For most of the century, generators, boilers and turbine combustion engines as well as thermal control devices contained large amounts of asbestos insulation. Prior to 1977, knowledge of the health hazards of asbestos were kept secret by the corporations that manufactured asbestos products. In 1977 however, evidence came to light proving that the entire industry had engaged in a massive conspiracy of suppression going back to the 1930s.
EPA and OSHA have since issued strong regulations to protect workers and govern the general handling of asbestos. However, asbestos disease symptoms take decades to becomes apparent. By then, the disease has usually advanced into its final stages.
New diagnostic methods have recently been developed that enable pathologists to detect the signs of asbestos disease at their earliest stages. Those who have ever been employed at a power generation facility should tell their primary care doctors and get regular checkups whenever possible.
Up until the 1980s, it was extremely common for many industrial facilities to use the mineral asbestos because it offered high resistance to transferring heat and electricity. It is ironic that protecting human life was typically one of the main justifications behind utilizing asbestos in worksites for the outcome was in fact to place workers at risk of serious illness or death due to contact with asbestos. The reason so many people have suffered from diseases including asbestosis and cancer is that when humans inhale asbestos fibers, the mineral remains in the lungs; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage organs. Also, workplace exposure to asbestos can cause the extremely hard to treat cancer known as mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Because science has uncovered the relationship between being exposed to asbestos and diseases such as asbestosis, modern-day workers are protected by state and federal guidelines that prescribe how asbestos is used. However, in the past, laborers without proper safety gear commonly toiled in areas where asbestos dust filled the air. Spouses and children were also subjected to asbestos exposure if companies failed to offer showers, as workers carried asbestos home with them in their work garments.
Because asbestos-related illnesses like asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma don't appear until decades after a person first is exposed to asbestos, men and women who were employed at exposed sites, as well as their spouses and children, are advised to discuss their history of asbestos exposure with their doctors no matter how far back they worked there. Also, workers who 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.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “United Nuclear Corporation.”