The West Valley Reprocessing Plant is a nuclear facility located on 200 acres of land in the town of Ashford, New York. The plant reprocessed used nuclear fuel rods (a procedure which allows nuclear materials to be safely stored or destroyed). The plant operated from 1966 until 1977, and it included a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant; a spent fuel storage facility; fifteen acres of landfill space designated for the storage of low level radioactive waste; and five acres of landfill space designated for the storage of high level radioactive waste.
Shortly after the plant ceased its operations, the residents of Ashford, New York, became concerned that the radioactive waste stored in the plant’s landfills had leaked into the groundwater and contaminated Cattaraugus Creek. Studies also conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy during the 1970s, found high levels of radiation in the air, surface water and wildlife located in the areas surrounding the plant. In reaction to these findings, The Federal Government passed the 1980 West Valley Demonstration Project Act, which aimed to decontaminate the areas surrounding the West Valley Reprocessing Plant and to remove high level radioactive waste from the plant’s landfills.
According to the Department of Energy, 98% of the facility’s high level liquid radioactive waste has been removed from surrounding landfills and transferred into ten-foot tall glass-lined stainless steel canisters, which are stored in a federal repository. Residents, however, still remain concerned that the fifteen acre landfill, designated for low level radioactive waste, posses a threat to both their health and the environment surrounding the West Valley Nuclear facility.
Asbestos Exposure and West Valley Reprocessing Plant
Exposure to asbestos was common during construction and maintenance of the West Valley Reprocessing facility. Individuals exposed to asbestos are placed at an increased risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
The West Valley plant’s operation required the use of an intricate system of temperature sensitive steam and acid pipes and gaskets. Asbestos gaskets were primarily used because of their durability and ability to withstand acid in the lines and in the tanks located throughout the facility. Asbestos-containing pipe covering was used to insulate pipes. Asbestos pipe covering was generally cut to length with a handsaw; this process created dust which was then inhaled by those who worked in the vicinity of those who repaired and maintained the asbestos-containing insulation. The pipe covering and gaskets used at the West Valley facility required regular and frequent maintenance. Stripping and fabricating these materials created a dangerous amount of airborne asbestos dust to be released into workplace.
In addition to the pipe covering and gaskets used at West Valley Nuclear, asbestos-containing joint compound, also called “mud”, was used by carpenters, plasterers and maintenance men who assisted in the construction of the buildings located at this facility. Joint compound, is used to cover the gap between adjoining pieces of drywall. At least three coats of joint compound are applied to the surface, and between each coat it was then sanded down to a smooth surface. During both the mixing process of asbestos joint compound and sanding process, dust and fibers were released into the air putting not only plasterers at risk for exposure, but others who also worked in the same vicinity.
The attorneys at Lipsitz & Ponterio, LLC have gathered a vast amount of information regarding the materials used and produced at The West Valley Reprocessing plant and the potential health hazards of their use. Our clients understand the importance of securing legal representation as soon as possible after a diagnosis of mesothelioma or other chemical exposure-related diseases. If you or a loved one were once employed at West Valley Nuclear and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another form of cancer, we urge you to contact us regarding your legal rights.