The Arapahoe Generating Station is a coal-fired, steam turbine power plant that began operations in 1950. Owned and operated by Xcel Energy, it is one of company's fifteen power generation facilities in the state of Colorado.
Although coal is notorious as a major pollutant, the company has made some efforts to minimize its environmental impact. Water used to generate steam is drawn from the South Platte River, then filtered in order to remove contaminants before being returned to the river.
Many employees also participate in community environmental programs. Nonetheless, it is impossible with current technology to remove all the polluting emissions caused by the burning of coal; Xcel plans to close the all of its coal-burning plants by 2020 and replace them with gas-fired plants, supplemented by wind and solar generators. This will come at a significant short-term financial cost, but will be better for the environment in the long term.
A Puerto Rican study published in 2007 strongly supports what industrial health and safety experts have been saying for some time: power plants pose a high degree of asbestos exposure risk to employees. The Puerto Rican study showed signs of asbestos exposure in 13% of subjects who participated.
The reason is the extensive use of asbestos insulation throughout the construction of power generating facilities. Such insulation was also used in the machinery as well; crocidolite asbestos is quite effective as an electrical insulator. Over time however, this material became brittle and began to crumble into dust that was not only inhaled and ingested by employees, but became lodged in the hair and clothing as well, exposing family members.
Symptoms of mesothelioma don't appear until decades after asbestos exposure first occurs. Men and women who worked at the Arapahoe Generating Station, as well as their family members, should discuss their history of contact with asbestos with their family doctors and receive frequent checkups if possible. Early detection is now possible thanks to recent tools made available by a Japanese biotech firm and recently approved by the FDA for use in the U.S., allowing pathologists to detect the markers indicative of the early stages of mesothelioma disease.
This installation was one of numerous factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, in the first 70 years of the last century, used the mineral asbestos because of its ability to withstand fire. It is ironic that protecting lives was usually one of the primary justifications for using asbestos in places for the result was in fact to put people at risk of serious illness or death due to inhalation of or other contact with asbestos. The reason large numbers of workers have died from diseases such as "miner's lung" and lung cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos fibers, the mineral embeds itself into respiratory passages; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage cells. Furthermore, workplace contact with asbestos is the primary cause of the extremely hard to treat form of cancer known as mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma.)
Because medical science has demonstrated the link between inhaling asbestos and conditions like lung cancer, today's laborers are protected by health and safety statutes that prescribe how asbestos is to be handled. People who worked near job sites constructed with asbestos before such rules were implemented, however, generally spent their work days in spaces where asbestos was prevalent, and they as a rule received little or no guidance regarding safe ways to handle the substance. And if employers did not provide decontamination methods, workers carried asbestos fibers to their homes on their clothes or in their hair, thereby exposing family members to this dangerous substance.
Diseases such as mesothelioma frequently take many years to manifest, and their symptoms can be mistaken for those of other conditions; therefore, people who worked at these jobsites at any time in the past, as well as those who lived with them, should discuss with their medical care providers about their history of contact with asbestos. Mesothelioma prognosis can be more promising if the disease is caught in its early stages.Sources
Proctor, Cathy (2007). Xcel Plans for the Future. Denver Business Journal.
Sierra Club. Dirty Coal Power.
Vuong, Andy (2008). OCC Urges Xcel to Defer Coal Plant Closures. Denver Post.
Xcel Energy. Arapahoe Station. Xcel Energy.