Asbestos Exposure among Power Industry Workers

A recent study by the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology assessed former levels of asbestos exposure in the power industry. The study focused on retrospective exposure in order to develop basic strategies for better surveillance and earlier detection of asbestos-related illnesses. The Journal conducted a questionnaire-based survey to over 8,500 power industry workers, inquiring about specific tasks and contact with airborne asbestos dust. The data from these questionnaires were then submitted into a specific computer program.

Lung cancer lawyers remind the public that power industry workers are just one group of individuals who are regularly exposed to asbestos. Other high-risk groups include those in shipbuilding, automotive repair, textiles, and construction. The use of asbestos in these and other occupations peaked in the 1960s and 70s, so retrospective accounts of this type are necessary in determining potential exposure in these workers. Because the period of time between initial exposure and development of related diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, can take several decades, an understanding of the individual health effects is essential.

The data was based on job titles, specific occupational tasks, and length of exposure. All job titles within the metal working function were allocated into one group with probable high exposure levels, followed by groupings of electricians, plant operators, and other craftsmen. The data was entered into a software system that had been developed by a panel of occupational safety experts and was based on ambient monitoring data of airborne asbestos fiber concentrations at defined workplaces, stratified by typical occupational tasks and time-periods.

As the 28 female participants represented only 0.3% of the total number, they were not analyzed separately. The main characteristics of the three groups indicate that the power generation workers, who represented approximately two thirds (65%) of all participants, were 10 years older (55 versus 45 years) than the second largest group of the 2498 (29%) power distribution workers and had a much longer mean period of asbestos exposure (20 versus 13 years). The 512 gas supply workers (6% of the total) had a similar mean age of 54 years, but their mean period of asbestos exposure was with 15 years closer to the power distribution group.

When stratifying age, periods of exposure, fiber years and typical job tasks by the defined similar exposure groups, certain differences within the power generation group became obvious. The two largest exposure groups were the metalworkers and the plant operators. The metalworkers and the electricians also had the highest fiber year values. The supervisors and those in the group with “other occupations” had low fiber years and were less involved with asbestos exposed tasks, but their results were still comparable with those of the other groups.

The calculations were carried out without corrections for the use of personal or technical protective measures, such as filter masks or technical ventilation. As 82% of the examined power generation workers were registered with the information that no protective measures had been applied at their workplaces, the use of uncorrected monitoring data seemed justified. The one typical and widely used protective measure mentioned in the occupational histories from the 1960ties and 1970ties was a wet sponge or cloth pressed to mouth and nose. Our data on the fiber types used seem to indicate that in the power industry the proportion of workers exposed to crocidolite (approximately half the cohort) was probably higher in comparison to most other industries.

Based on the assumption that a higher cumulative asbestos exposure leads to an increased risk of asbestos associated disease such as asbestosis or lung cancer, we consider the occupational group of metalworkers in the power generation industry as a high-risk group. Comprehensive surveillance measures in power industry workers should be based on focused epidemiological surveys taking into account age and occupation-specific disease risks. By applying that approach together with a sensitive examination technique, risk-differentiated, effective disease surveillance in different cohorts with typical risk patterns seems possible.

Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn those employed in the power industry, especially before the 1980s asbestos ban, of these findings. If you were exposed to asbestos through occupation or a family member was employed in an occupation with potential asbestos exposure, contact our office immediately for a free legal consultation.

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