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Asbestos Exposures Suffered at the Mercer Generating Station – Hamilton, New Jersey

The Mercer Generating Station went online in 1960. Located in Hamilton Township, near the Delaware River, the plant is owned and operated by PSEG. United Engineers and Contractors constructed the Mercer Generating Station, which features coal-fired and gas-fired boilers manufactured by the Foster Wheeler Corporation. Additional equipment, including turbines and generators, were manufactured and installed by the General Electric Corporation. For decades, the plants 650 megawatts of energy have powered Southern New Jersey. Many of the plant’s retired employees were members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Operations at the Mercer Generating Station regularly exposed many employees and independent contractors to vast amounts of asbestos. Due to the high temperatures of the power-generating equipment, much of the machinery was externally insulated with asbestos. Similarly, much of this equipment, including boilers, turbines, generators, pumps, valves and air compressors, required several pieces of asbestos components, including asbestos gaskets, packing and seals. During scheduled maintenance and emergency repairs, employees and independent contractors tore apart external asbestos insulation and removed and replaced asbestos gaskets and packing.

The Foster Wheeler Corporation manufactured the plant’s boiler units. Foster Wheeler is a major manufacturer of electricity-generating equipment, and for decades, was a member of various trade groups that discussed product design and customer safety. As a member of industry trade associations, including the National Safety Council, Foster Wheeler was warned about the dangers associated with exposure to airborne dust as far back as 1935. Despite these warnings, Foster Wheeler manufactured boilers that required interior and exterior insulation, pipe covering, asbestos rope, asbestos gaskets, and asbestos block, while failing to adequately warn users of its products about the hazards of asbestos.

Workers assigned to operate and monitor Mercer Station’s Foster Wheeler boilers regularly worked with and around these asbestos materials. To access the boilers, the asbestos insulation had to be cut and removed, which released thousands of asbestos fibers into the immediate workspace of Mercer Station’s employees. Then, in poorly ventilated areas of the interior of the boiler, workers removed and replaced asbestos gaskets, packing and rope. This maintenance was necessary to ensure that the boiler could operate for prolonged periods of time without interruption. Despite warnings dating as far back as 1935, Foster Wheeler failed to warn or protect against employee exposure to asbestos dust at the Mercer generating station.

General Electric manufactured Mercer Station’s turbine and generator equipment. Like Foster Wheeler, General Electric was a member of several trade groups that shared scientific knowledge with the scientific community and other corporations. Although General Electric was aware of the dangers associated with exposure to airborne dust as early as the 1930s, the company did not begin removing asbestos from its products until the late 1970s. General Electric’s chief medical doctor, William J. Taylor, congratulated the company on removing asbestos from their products, but questioned how the corporation could defend itself when a link between asbestos exposure and lung disease was suggested in 1935 and confirmed in 1955, years before Mercer Station’s construction.

Work with and around General Electric’s turbines and generators exposed workers to vast amounts of asbestos dust. Because this equipment operated at dangerously high temperatures, much of it was insulated with asbestos. Additionally, these General Electric products contained numerous asbestos gaskets and packing. During scheduled maintenance and emergency repairs, workers would rip out large pieces of asbestos insulation to reach the equipment, before removing and replacing worn gaskets and packing.

Additional products, including pumps, valves and air compressors, also contained various asbestos components. When Mercer Station was taken offline for repairs, workers would check each piece of equipment for damage. During this time, asbestos insulation was removed from the equipment, and the asbestos gaskets and packing were scraped out and changed. At times, employees would change dozens of worn gaskets and pieces of packing in a single day. Without warning or proper safety gear, each maintenance job further poisoned the lungs of these skilled tradespeople.

If you or a loved one worked at the Mercer Generating Station or another power plant and have developed an asbestos-related disease, including mesothelioma or lung cancer, please call today for a free consultation.

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