Utility Workers at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma from Asbestos Exposure in Power Plants
In a recent study by scientists in Germany, researchers found that workers at power plants are among those at highest risk of workplace asbestos exposure and developing mesothelioma. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and is proven to cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer typically affecting the lining of the lungs. Previously, the primary workers known to be at risk for asbestos-related diseases were insulators, plumbers and pipefitters, electricians, sheet metal workers, auto mechanics, refinery and factory workers and shipyard workers.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), asbestos causes approximately half of all deaths from occupational cancer. 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. In addition, they estimate 90,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Often called “asbestos cancer,” mesothelioma is highly aggressive and is resistant to many standard cancer treatments. Currently there is no known cure for mesothelioma, and the average survival time varies from 4 – 18 months after diagnosis.
“During the era when many power plants were built, asbestos was widely used as a building material,” said Joseph W. Belluck, a partner in Belluck & Fox, a New York law firm that represents mesothelioma victims in asbestos exposure lawsuits.
The recent study by scientists in Germany, published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, surveyed more than 8,600 former and active employees at coal burning and nuclear power plants in Germany to identify occupations at highest risk of workplace asbestos exposure. Power plants produce high temperatures in the generation of electricity, and asbestos was widely used as a heat-resistant insulation in turbines and other areas of plants.
For most workplaces where high temperatures or the need for heat protection demanded the use of insulation, a significant workplace asbestos exposure risk is assumed, the study said. While the study focused on German workers, U.S. utility workers likely faced the same working conditions and dangers from asbestos, Belluck said.
The researchers suggest that workers at power generation plants, including plant operators, metal workers and utility employees, were exposed to asbestos dust.
Mesothelioma is one cancer that can be entirely prevented by eliminating exposure to asbestos. Family members of those that worked around asbestos can also be at risk of mesothelioma through second-hand exposure to the asbestos fibers brought home on the workers’ clothes and shoes.