The Alliant Energy Corporation owns and operates a number of power-generation facilities throughout the Upper Midwest States of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The corporation’s total generative capacity is 31 terawatts (31,000 gWt), sufficient to meet the needs of 1.4 million homes and small businesses in the region.
In addition to electricity, Alliant also provides natural gas.
Many of Alliant’s generating plants were purchased from other companies or acquired through mergers and takeovers. Therefore, Alliant did not itself use asbestos in the construction of its older facilities constructed prior to the early 1980s. However, corporations that take over companies and their assets legally assume all liabilities and encumbrances as well.
Whether nuclear, fossil-fueled or hydro-powered, all electrical generation facilities constructed prior to 1980 have had asbestos exposure issues.
Asbestos is more than a flame retardant; the “blue” and “brown” varieties most likely to cause asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma are also excellent electrical insulators. Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively throughout the construction of power plants prior to 1980. Some of the areas in which asbestos-containing materials were found include:
- fire doors
- electrical cloth
- pipe fittings and conduits
- gasket materials
- turbines and other machinery
Power generation plant workers are at high risk from asbestos exposure and are substantially more likely to contract disease such as mesothelioma. In 2003, Puerto Rican researchers analyzed the chest x-rays of 1,100 workers who had worked at least fifteen years in such a facility. 13% of the images showed signs of asbestos disease.
This has also been an issue for the family members of power plant workers; asbestos fibers could become lodged in clothing and in hair. Thus carried into the home, it resulted in what is known as “secondary exposure” to spouses and children, some of whom developed asbestos cancer themselves later in life.
Those who were employed at a power generation plant prior to 1980 as well as their families should have regular health screenings if possible and discuss the asbestos exposure with their primary care physician. When diagnosed and treated early, asbestos cancer patients have a much better prognosis, although cancer that has been removed can recur; in most cases, lifetime monitoring is necessary. The cancer can be treated by doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA. with mesothelioma chemotherapy.
During much of the last century, it was commonplace for factories, mills, power plants and worksites to be constructed with asbestos because it offered high resistance to transferring heat and electricity. It is ironic that reducing the risk of injury was generally one of the driving justifications for using asbestos in worksites because the outcome was in fact to put workers in danger of serious illness or death due to exposure to asbestos. The reason so many employees have suffered from health conditions including pleural plaques and cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest particles of asbestos, the mineral embeds itself into respiratory passages; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage cells. In addition, mesothelioma, a fast-growing and mostly untreatable cancer affecting the lining surrounding the lungs, is associated with mild to moderate inhalation of asbestos particles.
Those who work with asbestos now are generally protected from exposure because of the extensive body of guidelines controlling its utilization, inclusion in products and disposal. Even as late as the 1970s, however, workers without proper safety gear frequently toiled in places thick with asbestos dust. Family members were also exposed to asbestos if workplaces did not provide showers, as workers carried asbestos dust to their homes in their work garments.
Since asbestos-related illnesses like asbestosis and mesothelioma may not appear until a very long time after asbestos exposure first occurs, those who worked at contaminated plants, as well as those who lived with them, are advised to talk about their history of asbestos contact with their medical care providers regardless of how far back they worked there.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Deadly Deception (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
Cabrera-Santiago, Manuel et al. “Prevalence of Asbestos-Related Disease Among Electrical Power Generation Workers in Puerto
Alliant Energy Corporate Website. "Operations & Organizations."