Besides environmental exposure, job sites expose many Virginians to asbestos. Shipbuilding, power generation, mining, milling and oil refining have a long history of asbestos use. This posed health risks to countless Virginia workers.
Residential dwellings have exposed Virginians to asbestos. In April 2019, an asbestos contractor pleaded guilty to violating asbestos safety regulations. They removed asbestos from the Hunting Point apartment complex in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2014. The sentence was 12 months probation, 50 hours of community service and a $15,000 fine.
Doctors and scientists have determined that all forms of asbestos can cause serious health conditions. These include asbestosis, pleural effusion, lung cancer and a rare cancer called mesothelioma. Treatment for these diseases is available at top Virginia cancer centers.
Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk in Virginia
Environmental exposure to asbestos is a health concern throughout Virginia. The mineral is usually sealed away in the rocks and soil.
Mining, construction and other human activities can disturb deposits and release airborne asbestos. This may cause direct health threats to surrounding populations if inhaled.
The highest concentrations of asbestos are along the Blue Ridge. It is an Appalachian range that runs southwest from the Maryland border near Fairfax County and Washington D.C.
Virginia counties at an elevated risk of environmental asbestos exposure:
- Prince Williams
- Prince Edward
Several mines in Virginia put surrounding populations at risk for asbestos exposure. Two former asbestos mines along the Blue Ridge near Richmond, and Virginia Vermiculite, LLC in Louisa County operate one of the last remaining open pit vermiculite mines in the United States. Although vermiculite is a nontoxic mineral, it often forms alongside asbestos.
In 2000, a study conducted by the Mine Safety and Health Administration found evidence of asbestos in 30 air samples and 12 rock samples from Virginia Vermiculite. Seven rock samples contained high levels of asbestos, several containing between 95% and 99% asbestos.
This contamination threatens the health of anyone involved in the mining and production process as well as those living near the mine. Asbestos contamination at the Louisa mine has been compared to a similar incident at a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana where thousands of residents were diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.
Although the EPA placed regulations on asbestos in the 1970s and ’80s, asbestos-containing materials have been used for centuries in Virginia. Many construction and industrial occupations have a long history of asbestos use that puts workers at risk for serious health complications. It can take upwards of 20 to 50 years for some asbestos-related diseases to present symptoms, so workers exposed to the mineral long before its regulation may just now be experiencing health issues.
Those who directly handle asbestos or asbestos-containing materials have the highest likelihood of developing an asbestos-related disease. Miners that have processed asbestos and vermiculite minerals should be particularly concerned about developing mesothelioma.
Other job sites in Virginia notorious for industrial asbestos use include shipyards, power plants, chemical plants, mills and refineries. There are also several landfills throughout Virginia permitted to store asbestos and related products.
Virginia Jobsites with Confirmed Asbestos Exposure
Anyone working at or frequenting these sites could be at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease, so regular medical exams are highly recommended for preventative measures.
Job sites with asbestos exposure risk in the state of Virginia:
- Colonna’s Shipyard
- National Shipyards
- USX Shipyard
- Crown Cork & Seal
- Virginia Vermiculite, LLC
- E Luke Green Company, Inc.
- Smith Gap Regional Landfill
- Charleston Nuclear Power Plant
- Lasalle Atomic Powerhouse
- North Anna Nuclear Power Plant
- Maplewood Recycling and Waste Disposal Facility
- Lyon Shipyard
- Newport News Naval Shipyard
- Little Creek Amphibious Base
- Exxon Mobil
- Proscience Analytical Services, Inc.
- Garlock Sealing Technologies
- BFI King and Queen Landfill
- First Piedmont Industrial Landfill
- Surry Nuclear Power Plant
- Chesapeake Paper Powerhouse
- North Anna Powerhouse
- John Crane, Inc.
Asbestos Exposure at Surry Power Station
A 2011 incident in Isle of Wight County exposed at least 12 contractors to airborne asbestos fibers. Hundreds of contract employees hired by Surry Power Station faced the task of repairing the aging nuclear power plant after a tornado prompted the shutdown of its two reactors on April 16. Before the repair work began, safety officials assured contractors that the jobs would not involve asbestos and that any pipes containing asbestos would be clearly labeled. The contractors were shocked several days later when it became apparent they were misinformed.
According to State Department of Labor and Industry reports, a few dozen pipefitters were removing old pipes from the turbine building on April 22 while the reactor was down. After several sections of pipe were removed via blowtorch, one of the contractors observed fibers floating in the air like a fine snow. After confirming that the pipe was not marked with an asbestos warning, the workers were puzzled about the source of the suspended fibers. Several pipefitters investigated further, and after following the pipe down two stories they discovered a label: “Danger Asbestos.”
Because the plant’s owner, Dominion Virginia Power, did not have air sampling equipment on-site at the time of the incident, the extent of exposure remains unknown. The report confirmed, however, that asbestos was later found on the clothes of 12 workers and in three work trailers. Of the eight companies involved in the incident, state investigators found that six were not at fault. Hopewell-based Quality Specialties, Inc. was fined $4,900 for failing to label pipes properly. The company is disputing the charges and an investigation of Dominion is currently underway.