Creating, storing and distributing electrical power effectively to power our world requires a lot of skilled workers. Most modern power plants have at least 400 to 700 power plant workers on staff, including blue-collar and white-collar workers. Depending on their certifications, their work can include operating machinery, system control, metalwork, and equipment maintenance. The majority of plant workers start their working lives as non-licensed power plant workers and will advance to licensed operators of senior reactor operators after many years of service.
Power Plant Workers Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment, 2018: 53,000
- Similar Occupations: Construction equipment operators, electrical and electronics installers and repairers, electricians, hazardous materials removal workers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: High
- States with the Highest Employment: California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida
Power plants are full of heat-generating machinery, early power plants had high levels of asbestos insulation to prevent overheating and fires. Regular plant operation caused asbestos fibers to be released into the air, where workers could inhale them and eventually develop mesothelioma.
Asbestos is highly toxic to the human body and can cause pleural mesothelioma as well as other serious diseases. Almost all of these diseases could have been prevented, ex-power plant workers have filed personal injury lawsuits against power plants to compensate them for their injuries.
According to a 2015 British Medical Journal study, power plant workers from 2001-2009 data were eight times more likely to die from mesothelioma than the regular population.
Power Plant Workers Asbestos Exposure
The power plant workers who were at the highest risk of asbestos exposure were the blue-collar workers who had to install or maintain pipes and electrical appliances at the plants. Records from power plants show that insulation that contained asbestos was dangerous for their health later in life. Upgrading machinery in a power plant often involved employees cutting through asbestos products to install more asbestos materials.
Some power plant workers were required to spray asbestos pulp onto hot machinery, such as boilers. Others would install asbestos insulation onto pipes, pumps, seals, and gaskets. One plant worker remembers creating clouds of asbestos dust as he was drilling and bolting breakers onto a turbine. If you can see a cloud of asbestos dust, there are also billions of invisible particles in the air that are also extremely hazardous.
Asbestos exposure at power plants is less today but exposure still occurs. In October 2011, at least a dozen workers were exposed to asbestos when they were cutting power plant pipes at a plant in southeastern Virginia.
Scientific Studies on Power Plant Workers Asbestos Exposure
A German study found that power generating workers had about 20 years of asbestos exposure during their work lives. Workers who did power generation tasks had longer exposure times than workers who were working on power distribution or gas supply.
That study also found that out of 8,600 power plant workers, 3,479 worked with products that contained asbestos during their careers.
A smaller clinical study in the late 1970s determined that asbestos exposure in power plants is related to pleural thickening and chest pain in former power plant workers. About 33% of workers surveyed had markers of asbestos exposure in their sputum.
Power Plant Workers Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
A nuclear power plant worker named Paul Crane filed a personal injury lawsuit against Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant after he worked for 11 years wrapping pipes with asbestos and welding metals while he was wrapped in asbestos protective clothing. The Supreme Court of New York ruled against the contracting company for not implementing safety procedures at the site.
Some of the companies whose power plants have been found to contain asbestos are Allis-Chalmers, Durabia, General Electric, Georgia Pacific, and Kilnoise.