For decades, asbestos and high-temperature equipment were a logical pair. Wherever one found electrical machinery, boilers, tanks, generators, or other such “hot” items, asbestos materials weren’t far behind. From the early decades of the 20th century, manufacturers of asbestos-containing items had the general public convinced that this toxic mineral was the best insulator available, and even when suspicions about its safety surfaced, plants, factories, refineries, and other places that employed large numbers of tradespeople continued to use those materials.
In the nation’s power plants, asbestos was everywhere. After all, what more logical place for a material that insulates high temperature machinery than in an electrical powerhouse when nearly everything is hot? For a long time, plant owners and employers thought they were keeping their workers safe by using asbestos materials, primarily for insulation, so those who toiled daily to keep the nation’s lights on thought nothing of their encounters with the mineral.
In addition to the power plant workers who enjoyed regular employment at the nation’s energy hubs, countless contractors often found themselves in these same facilities. These included electricians, steamfitters, welders, insulators, and others whose job it was to install or repair asbestos-containing items including:
As a result, those who worked in the tens of thousands of U.S. power plants built before about 1980 were exposed to asbestos fibers daily. In old power plants that may not have been completed updated to this day, those asbestos materials may still exist. In addition, because power plants must be manned 24 hours per day, the number of individuals exposed over the years is astronomical.
Several mesothelioma-related lawsuits filed by power plant workers have cited the fact that owners/managers seemed to have known that workers were showing an inordinate number of respiratory symptoms that may have been related to asbestos inhalation yet they failed to provide masks or any other kind of protective equipment that could have spared lives.
For example, Robert Croteau vs. Con Edison, Treadwell Corp, and others (2007) maintained that in the two Con Edison plants and at two dozen other plants where the plaintiff worked, he was never informed that his health was in danger nor was he ever offered any means of protecting himself from inhaling asbestos’ tiny, sharp fibers, which can remain in the lungs for decades and eventually cause cancerous tumors to develop.
As a result of this proven negligence, a jury found Con Edison 34 percent negligent (17 percent at each site), and Treadwell 4 percent negligent, with the balance of the liability split among 23 additional defendants, court records state. Unfortunately, it was too late to save Croteau’s life but any compensation may have helped with medical bills or allowed the power plant worker’s family to more easily move on with their life without their loved one.
Individuals who were employees at one of America’s power plants or who regularly did contract work at plants built prior to 1980 should be concerned about asbestos diseases should they develop respiratory distress including shortness of breath, chest pains, and coughing, and should see a doctor immediately if the symptoms cannot be linked to a more common illness like a cold or bronchitis.