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Power Plant Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

In our modern world, we cannot survive without electricity. It powers almost everything we use and the homes and buildings we live and work in. Electricity is truly a vital part of our lives, but many times we don't even realize how much we rely on it. Electricity is provided to us through power plants. They harness electricity from water, steam, and wind and provide us with the power we need. All the same, power plants are some of the most dangerous places with the greatest risk of asbestos exposure. Even today, when the use of asbestos has been outlawed for almost 30 years, asbestos still remains in many buildings and facilities built before 1980. Therefore, power plant workers in every state are at risk for asbestos exposure, and also mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by asbestos.

Asbestos was used in a variety of machines in power plants, as well as the insulation for the buildings. It was often added to uniforms and clothing as well. Asbestos is useful for insulation and resistance to heat and fire, qualities that are desperately needed in power plant facilities, where heat is high and the chance of a fire is always present. Asbestos also helped machines withstand pressure and the everyday wear-and-tear from their processes, making them last longer.

However, all of these processes potentially released asbestos fibers, dangerous when people are nearby. The fibers could easily be swallowed or inhaled without any of the workers knowing, making it even more dangerous. Many did not wear protective gear or masks, which are critical for combating asbestos. When asbestos fibers get in the body, they become trapped in a membrane called the mesothelium, which protects our lungs and other vital organs. As exposure continues, these fibers build up and cause significant damage and health problems, including the development of the cancer mesothelioma.

A mesothelioma tumor can start small but will eventually spread across the lungs. It can easily spread to other parts of the body through the mesothelium, and is also found in the abdominal cavity as well as the mesothelium of the heart. In the later stages of mesothelioma, cancer cells can spread through the bloodstream through the lymph nodes, which is especially life-threatening. However, all of this starts to happen years after exposure—up to 30 and 40 years sometimes.

Many mesothelioma patients are not diagnosed until after age 55 or 60, which has come to be expected. When diagnosed, these patients are usually in the latter stages of mesothelioma, because they did not recognize the symptoms and signs until it was too late. Life expectancy for mesothelioma patients in these stages is only 18 months to 2 or 3 years; treatment typically is not as effective, so many patients choose to let the cancer run its course.

Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer, and is still relatively rare. Around 3,000 people a year are diagnosed with it, compared to the more than 100,000 cases of breast cancer each year. If you are a former power plant worker, see a doctor regularly to have your health monitored, and to catch mesothelioma if it develops.

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Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013