New Mexico and Asbestos Exposure

Even as the fifth largest state in terms of area, New Mexico’s population only barely reaches two million, with the majority of people residing in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque metropolitan regions. Naturally, the largest percentages of asbestos-related medical cases are located in these areas, and even though there are not too many people living there, the state is home to some major asbestos concerns.

New Mexico’s culture during its time as a part of the US has been marked by multiple advanced technological influences. From the first atomic bomb test to the many classified Air Force research and development installations in the desert, the state has highly-driven industry. Of course, these industrial concerns require infrastructural support. This includes the power plants and oil refineries where some asbestos exposure has unfortunately been a problem.

The state’s largest utility provider was named defendant in 20 lawsuits concerning asbestos exposure in 2003 alone. The same company had been sued previously concerning secondary asbestos exposure. Similar to the hazards of cigarette smoke, one need not be exposed to asbestos in their occupation; just being around such a worker is sufficient. Asbestos is made up of microscopic fibers that easily become airborne, even after they have been previously machined or installed, and people who worked around asbestos unwittingly brought these particles home to their families on their clothes, hair and bodies.

Because asbestos containing materials (ACMs) function so well in high-powered electrical applications and combustion-prone industrial processes, they saw decades of regular use in modern power plants. For over a half century, ACM products like wiring insulation, panel bodies, electrical cloth and building components in power facilities were manufactured and used.

New Mexico’s power plants are far from the sole sources of asbestos exposure. ACM buildings and insulation were major blessings for the oil refineries where high concentrations of gaseous and liquid petroleum threatened to set off huge fires at the tiniest spark. Unfortunately for refinery workers in the hot, flame-prone New Mexico atmosphere, ACM products included overcoat and glove linings, which often released their deadly fibers when damaged.

ACMs were definitely used anywhere heat or fire was a danger, but also in many public buildings constructed before 1980, where asbestos’ insulating properties were highly sought-after. There are even a few natural asbestos deposits in New Mexico, but these are not active production centers.