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Astoria Powerhouse

History

Asbestos Exposure at Astoria Powerhouse

The Astoria Powerhouse, sometimes called "power station" or "power plant", is located in the section of Queens, NY that is adjacent to the East River. It is the largest Powerhouse in the metropolitan area providing approximately 49% of the energy needs in Greater New York. Its chief duties consist of distributing power, steam and natural gas to over 3 million people. It contains different sections that utilize different methods for obtaining the necessary amount of heat and power that is needed. The Powerhouse mainly uses natural gas, oil and kerosene in their energy production.

Consolidated Edison (ConEd) owned and operated the Astoria Powerhouse from at least the mid-twentieth century until it was sold off in 1999. Though still in the same location, the Powerhouse is now three different sections each run by a separate entity: Reliant Resources, NRG Energy, and the New York Power Authority. In 1999, the wholesale market of electricity in and around New York was deregulated, resulting in ConEd's sale of the facility.

Powerhouse Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Due to the intense heat generated in the Powerhouse, there was a great need for cheap and efficient insulation throughout the years. Until the mid 1970s, the product that was used was asbestos, now known to be extremely dangerous. Asbestos usage put employees at risk for the serious health problems associated with breathing its dust and particles. There were miles of pipes necessary for steam production that were insulated with asbestos, as well as boilers, pumps, heaters, condensers, turbine generators and other equipment that also used asbestos products and insulation.

Even if one was not in direct contact with asbestos they were at risk because it was present throughout the facility. As asbestos insulation was applied, maintained and repaired it often brought forth airborne dust particles that could have been inhaled by anyone. The excessive amount of building works, repairs, and maintenance that occurred in the Astoria Powerhouse put every employee at risk, as well as family members who were exposed to the dust on their loved ones clothing.

At Risk for Mesothelioma and Other Asbestos Diseases

By the mid 1970s, strong evidence was uncovered regarding the health dangers associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos. Many who had worked with asbestos for extended periods of time were coming down with pulmonary diseases (such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis) from breathing asbestos dust.

The asbestos related diseases include:

  • Mesothelioma: a type of cancer only caused by asbestos exposure that attacks the lining around the lungs and/or heart and/or abdomen. This cancer is not in the organs themselves, though untreated it will spread. The most common form is pleural mesothelioma (lung lining), then peritoneal mesothelioma (stomach lining), and then pericardial mesothelioma (heart lining).

  • Asbestos Related Lung Cancer: while lung cancer can come from numerous sources, asbestos exposure can lead to the formation of a malignant tumor that blocks the air passages (common for smokers who were exposed to asbestos).

  • Asbestosis: a pulmonary condition, only caused by exposure to asbestos, where scar tissue builds up in the lungs causing breathing problems and low blood flow.

The diseases associated with asbestos are similar in that their symptoms often do not appear for many years after exposure. It is not uncommon for someone to develop lung cancer after a 10 year lag between onset and initial exposure. Mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis often do not become apparent for 30 to 40 years after the initial exposure to asbestos. Common symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pains, a dry hacking cough that sometimes contains blood.

The health problems associated with asbestos were not just isolated to people who worked directly with the product. The asbestos dust would spread easily through the air putting workers who never used it at risk. Family members were also at risk because workers would return home with the dust on their clothes, shoes and even hair.

There are different treatments available for patients suffering asbestos related cancers and diseases. These include, but are not limited to: chemotherapy and certain medications including Lovastatin which can be used as an antineoplastic agent preventing the growth of certain cancerous tumors, and Alimta® (also called Pemetrexed) which has been approved by the F.D.A. as a mesothelioma treatment.

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