Turbines are devices that produce energy from the rotational flow of liquids or gases, commonly water or steam. Blades within the turbine spin, often rapidly, as the liquid or gas pushes them, generating heat energy as well as electricity. Because of this heat, it is necessary that turbines be well-insulated from their surroundings to maintain a consistent internal temperature as well as to keep any heat or electrical sparks from escaping, preventing fires or other heat damage. Prior to the 1980s, companies such as GE used asbestos-containing insulation in their turbines, since it was effective, durable, lightweight, and relatively cheap.
Since turbines can be found in a variety of locations — most notably utilities, power plants, industrial settings, and ships, but other environments as well — many workers involved in the manufacture, maintenance, and use of turbines may have been exposed to the asbestos used to insulate them. When intact, the insulation is relatively harmless. However, as soon as that insulation is damaged, whether by renovation or simply old age, fibers of asbestos can make their way into the air, where they can be breathed in by anyone working on or near the turbine.
Many of the companies that manufactured turbines failed to warn the hazardous impact of asbestos on health of people working for the United States Navy and those in the mine industry, but defended themselves stating that the turbines were built in accordance with the specification provided by the consumers. As a result, the rates of mesothelioma among Navy workers, repairmen and contractors are significantly greater than the incidence of mesothelioma in the public.