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Energy Plant Workers Face Elevated Mesothelioma Risk

24171312_powerplantConstruction workers and tradespeople who have worked at any of the U.S. Department of Energy’s  nuclear sites would do well to be aware of the early warning signs of cancer, including malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis.

A new report prepared by the Center for Construction Research and Training and Duke University finds that people who worked at the DOE’s nuclear sites are at higher risk of death from “all causes, all cancers” and should be actively monitored for signs of disease.

The research was based on data from the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program, a program established in 1996 to provide occupational medicine screening exams to construction workers employed at DOE nuclear facilities.

More than 18,800 workers were monitored from 1998 through 2011. During that time, 2,801 of the workers died. The rates of death among these workers were then compared to death rates for the same conditions among the U.S. general public.

“Mortality was elevated for all causes, all cancers, cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lung and lymphatic and hematopoietic system, mesothelioma, COPS, and asbestosis,” writes co-author Dr. Knut Ringen in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

While many of the cancers that killed former DOE workers are linked to radiation exposure, evidence suggests that many DOE workers were likely also exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is the number one cause of lung-scarring asbestosis and the fast-growing membrane cancer malignant mesothelioma. Asbestos was commonly used as an insulator in many industries, including the nuclear power industry, because of its resistance to heat, fire, and corrosion.

Asbestos use has been heavily regulated in the U.S. since the 1980s and most people who get the disease were exposed decades before their symptoms appeared. But the report found that even workers employed by the DOE at nuclear sites after 1980 were more likely to die of cancer than people who never worked for the DOE. The researchers recommend continued medical surveillance for these workers.

If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos, it is important to know the symptoms and seek medical advice as early as possible. Click here to learn about mesothelioma and its symptoms.

Ringen, K, et al, “Mortality of older construction and craft workers employed at department of energy nuclear sites: follow-up through 2011”, February 2015, American Journal of Industrial Medicine

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