Clark Station was built in the 1950s as the Las Vegas area was being transformed from a small desert railroad stop into the major metropolitan region it has since become. The first unit went online in 1956 and had a capacity of 32 megawatts.
Over the next several decades, Clark Station grew to its current size of ten units with a total generative capacity of over 1.08 gigawatts. In 2006, the utility added three 24 kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel arrays to the system. In the meantime, the three oldest units have been scheduled for retirement and shut down.
Regardless of the power source, asbestos has been a problem associated with all types of electrical generation plants – particularly those constructed prior to 1980. Prior to 1977, those in the asbestos industry claimed ignorance about the health hazards of asbestos – and in any event, promoted their product in ways that downplayed what knowledge had been leaked from medical researchers.
In fact, they had been quite aware of those dangers for over forty years. The conspiracy to suppress and distort the information was uncovered by the litigator in an asbestos case, who found the evidence in a closet in the office of the CEO of a major asbestos company, now known as the “Sumner Simpson Papers.”
Prior to that time, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used extensively throughout the construction of power generation plants as well as other industries. The reasons have to do with the hazards typically encountered in such facilities: flame, heat and electricity, and caustic substances. “Blue” crocidolite asbestos is a particularly effective electrical insulator; it is also one of the deadliest varieties of asbestos, known to cause mesothelioma.
ACMs were employed in virtually everything from flame-retardant paint to the very machinery used to generate power. It was particularly hazardous in this context, as the moving parts could eject millions of fibers into the building environment. This was dangerous not only for workers who inhaled such fibers, but their family members as well when fibers that had settled in workers' hair and clothing were brought into the home resulted in secondary exposure.
A research study in Puerto Rico involved the examination of chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers. Signs of asbestos disease was noted in over 130 of the images. Power plants are regarded by industrial medicine experts as some of the most hazardous industrial worksites for asbestos exposure.
Anyone with an employment history at Clark Station should get regular medical checkups and ongoing health monitoring. Asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma are deadly, but if caught in their earliest stages, can usually be treated successfully with mesothelioma chemotherapy from doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.
With its ability to block fire, asbestos (which occurs in forms such as chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite) was often utilized within numerous industrial sites throughout the US. It is ironic that protecting lives was generally one of the driving reasons for using asbestos in worksites for the result was in fact to put workers in danger of serious illness due to inhalation of or other contact with asbestos. The reason for this is that asbestos fibers, when inhaled or ingested, can infiltrate the lungs, leading to debilitating diseases including pleural plaques and lung cancer. In addition, mesothelioma, which is a nearly always fatal cancer of the cells that line the chest cavity, is linked with mild to moderate asbestos exposure.
Because researchers have uncovered the link between asbestos exposure and illnesses such as lung cancer, modern-day workers are protected by state and federal guidelines that control how asbestos is used. People who worked near asbestos before such rules were implemented, however, generally spent their shifts in sites where asbestos microfibers were prevalent, and they as a rule received very little training concerning how to minimize risks when dealing with the substance. Moreover, workers took asbestos particles home with them on their work clothes when decontamination procedures weren't provided at the job site; as a result, this potentially deadly mineral also put at risk wives and husbands of those who worked near asbestos.
People who were employed here at any time in the past, as well as their partners and children, should learn more about these health conditions and inform their healthcare professionals about their history of exposure to asbestos, because the symptoms of diseases such as mesothelioma can be mistaken for those of less serious conditions.
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America. New York: Touchstone, 2003.
Cabrera-Santiago, Manuel et al. "Prevalence of Asbestos-Related Disease Among Electrical Power Generation Workers in Puerto Rico." Presentation at American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, 2007.