Beluga Alaska is an isolated resort town about forty miles southwest of Anchorage by air. It is home to the Beluga Power Station. Affiliated with the Chugach Electric Power Plant, this station provides electrical power for half of the city of Anchorage, and is the primary source of Beluga's income.
The Beluga Power Station has a total of eight units, seven of which are gas-fired combustion turbines and one powered by steam. Although the use of natural gas machines has reduced many of the health hazards normally associated with such an industry, the facility still contains a great deal of asbestos.
The gas turbines are highly efficient and contain some of the latest engineering technology in this area. Nonetheless, the steam pipes and heating and cooling mechanisms contain substantial amounts of asbestos insulation. It is a situation that management is aware of; employees have been issued warnings and are instructed to use safety goggles and respirators.
Aside from the movement of the machinery, another danger lies in seismic activity. Southern Alaska is part of the geologically-active Pacific “Ring of Fire” that stretches in a huge arc from Japan to South America. Twice in the past twenty years, the community was cut off from the outside world for several weeks at a time due to the eruption of a nearby volcano. Against this danger, the fifty employees who reside and work there have stored several weeks' worth of food, fuel, water and medicines in the case of such an event.
Although fairly self-contained, the turbines are well regulated and supervised on a daily basis to ensure they continue to operate safely and efficiently. This is why employees live in on-site housing, complete with a cook to provide three square meals a day.
Asbestos Illness and Power Plant Workers
Asbestos illnesses are a serious work-related hazard for power plant workers. This was borne out in a Puerto Rican study in 2003; out of 1100 chest x-rays from such workers, over 130 of them showed signs of asbestos disease.
The management of Beluga has apparently dealt with this issue better than it has been at similar industries; to date, there have been few complaints against the company, nor has it been a named defendant in any lawsuits. Today, the EPA and OSHA have issued many strict regulations designed to protect workers against asbestos diseases.
This has not always been the case, however; asbestos has been used in power plants for decades, and before the 1970s, the dangers of asbestos were largely kept secret by the large corporations that manufactured and marketed asbestos products.
In addition, asbestos diseases have a lengthy latency period; the time between exposure and the development of symptoms is often measured in decades. Those who have been exposed to asbestos should seek medical attention at any of the mesothelioma clinics in their area.
Because of its resistance to heat, flame and electrical current, asbestos could commonly be found in almost all factories, mills, power plants and worksites throughout the US. It is ironic that saving lives was typically one of the primary reasons behind using asbestos in worksites for the outcome was in fact to put laborers in danger of serious illness due to contact with asbestos. The reason large numbers of employees have died from health conditions such as pleural plaques and lung cancer is that when humans inhale asbestos strands, the mineral embeds itself into respiratory passages; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage tissues. The most deadly of the asbestos-linked diseases is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity; it is a disease that usually kills within two years of diagnosis.
Employees whose jobs put them in contact with asbestos in present times are generally protected from inhalation due to the extensive body of laws regulating its utilization, presence at job sites and disposal. In earlier days, though, workers commonly were forced to toil in spaces in which air filled with asbestos particles was unfiltered; in most cases, the dangers posed by asbestos inhalation were little understood. Family members were also subjected to asbestos exposure if workplaces failed to offer ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, as employees carried asbestos to their homes on their clothes or in their hair. Workers who have been negligently exposed should seek legal counsel from a mesothelioma lawyer.
Asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma frequently take decades to appear, and the signs of these illnesses can be difficult to distinguish from those of other conditions, so men and women who worked at these installations during their careers, as well as those who lived with them, are encouraged to chat with their medical care providers about their history of asbestos exposure.Sources
Commerce State AK website (unspecified date). Alaska Community Database Community Information Summaries (CIS). Retrieved April 17, 2009, from
Jackson, P. and Kotrotsois, J. (2006, March 9) O&M staff keep their cool at Alaskan plant. Power Mag online. Retrieved April 17, 2009, from