The utility industry forms the core of our energy infrastructure. The public depends on its services and rightly takes for granted that the electricity is always flowing. But with this service comes a number of public and occupational hazards. Workers suffer illnesses and injuries from exposure to spills or leaks of radiation, chlorine gas, PCB-contaminated oil, sulfuric acid, or potassium permanganate. Other hazards include: electrocution, crushing from cave-ins during excavations, asbestos, mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and other heavy metals to name a few. We see UWUA members at work in everyday lives, but their work hazards go unnoticed. Similarly, the public hazards from the industry such as air and water pollution and catastrophic releases of toxins often are seen as everyday circumstances until there is a dramatic accident that draws our attention to the utility industry, such as Three Mile Island. More often than not, a worker training is the first and only line of defense to either prevent or stem hazards in the workplace or the public. Sometimes these invisible hazards break into full view as happened during the Kingston, Tennessee coal ash spill. The spill deposited about 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash sludge into the Emory River and its environs destroying or damaging 26 homes with an expected cleanup cost $1 Billion (2). There are less spectacular hazards of coal-fired electrical plants'combustion by-products that are reported in the EPA's Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category: Final Detailed Report: The total amount of toxic pollutants currently being released in wastewater discharges from coal-fired power plants is estimated to be significant and raises concerns regarding the long-term impacts to aquatic organisms, wildlife, and human health that are exposed to these pollutants.

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Utility Workers Union of America
United States
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