In our homes and workplaces, we rely on a steady source of electrical power to provide light, run necessary equipment and manage the comfort of our environment. As a result, we rely every day on the workers in our state’s power plants to produce that necessary energy.
These workers face many risks in their daily work. Unfortunately, one invisible danger has put power plant workers at risk years or even decades after they performed this vital job. What should you know about power plant workers and the risk of asbestos exposure.
Power plants in our community
Washington is home to 133 different power plants, and the state leads the nation in hydroelectric power production. In addition to the many hydroelectric plants on Washington’s waterways, power production in Washington also includes coal, natural gas and nuclear power.
Because of the variety of systems involved in power plants, workers in the power industry may be involved in a variety of different trade unions. For example, power plant workers may be members of local chapters of The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) like IBEW local 77 and IBEW local 76.
Workers may also be part of unions focused on the tasks specific to their job. For example, those that oversee the pipes and boilers used to convey steam in power plants may be members of plumbers and steamfitters unions like UA Local 290, United Association Local 32 and UA Association Local 26.
How has asbestos been used in power plants?
Power generation creates significant heat, and the heat-resistant properties of asbestos made it a common material in power plants during the 20th century. Asbestos was often used as insulation for boilers, pipes, turbines and other machinery. It was also used in fireproofing materials and items like fire blankets intended to extinguish fires if they occurred.
Asbestos was also a common component of building materials like insulation, acoustical panels, floor tiles, industrial adhesives and cement. As a result, workers were often surrounded by asbestos in their daily work.
Even the clothing that was supposed to protect power industry workers could have put them at risk. The use of asbestos fibers in fireproof protective equipment like mitts may have offered protection from the immediate risk of fire or heat, but it also put them in close contact with this dangerous carcinogen.
Unfortunately, these risks did not end when the United States government banned many uses of asbestos during the 1980s. Workers maintaining, updating or decommissioning power plants built during the height of asbestos use also risk exposure from asbestos in existing structures.
How much risk did power plant workers face?
Because of the many ways that asbestos was used in power production, workers in power plants were frequently at risk of exposure to this dangerous carcinogen. One study of workers in the German power industry found that these workers have historically been at a high risk of asbestos exposure. Workers in power generation were particularly at risk, with many workers experiencing around 20 years of cumulative asbestos exposure.
This high rate of exposure also means that power plant workers have been at increased risk of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. A report regarding workers in Italian thermoelectric power plants found that this risk was widespread and impacted all categories of employees. A study published by the British Medical Journal also found that both manual workers and non-manual workers in these plants face increased rates of mesothelioma.
While asbestos exposure has damaged the health of many power industry workers, these people and their families do not have to face the burden of serious and fatal asbestos-related disease alone. By exploring their legal options, people harmed by asbestos use in power plants can pursue compensation that can offer necessary financial support.