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Big Bend Power Plant

The Big Bend Power Station is located on a 1,500 acre facility in southeastern Hillsborough County, Florida. Four coal-fired units have a total generative capacity of just under 1.8 gigawatts. The facility first came online in 1970, with additional units added in 1973, 1976 and 1985.

Attempts to reduce the facility's environmental impact have been ongoing since the mid-1980s, with a scrubber was added. Currently, the system is able to remove 95% of sulfur dioxide emissions. Current goals call to eliminate 80% of the plant's nitrous oxide emissions by 2010 through the use of a Selective Catalytic Reduction system on each unit.

Meanwhile, solid particulate waste is recycled into construction material such as gypsum and cement.

Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively throughout the construction of power plants prior to 1980. 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. Some of the areas in which asbestos-containing materials were found include:

  • fire doors
  • electrical cloth
  • pipe fittings and conduits
  • insulation
  • gasket materials
  • turbines and other machinery

When these materials became friable (a crumbling state in which fibers are released into the environment), the resulting asbestos dust was not only inhaled, but could become lodged in workers' hair and clothing, subjecting unsuspecting family members to the hazards of secondary exposure.

In 2003, medical researchers in Puerto Rico examined chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers. Signs of asbestos disease were seen in 13% of the subjects. Power plants are considered to be among the most hazardous industrial jobsites when it comes to asbestos by industrial safety experts. Those who were employed at such facilities prior to the early 1980s should discuss this with a medical professional if possible and receive frequent check-ups. Asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma have long latency periods; symptoms may not be apparent until several decades after such exposure.

The good news is that recent advances in medical technology have enabled pathologists to detect the “markers” of asbestos cancer in its earliest stages, when it is treatable. The disease can recur later however, and lifelong health monitoring is usually necessary.

This facility was one of thousands of factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, in most of the 1900s, utilized the naturally occurring mineral known as asbestos because of its ability to resist flame. Although using asbestos was generally considered a way to reduce the risk of injury, it unfortunately often had the opposite effect. Asbestos exposure on the job has resulted in illness and death for far too many people. The reason large numbers of employees have died from illnesses including asbestosis and cancer is that when humans inhale asbestos fibers, the mineral infiltrates respiratory passages; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage cells. Furthermore, job-related asbestos exposure is the primary cause of the extremely hard to treat form of cancer called mesothelioma disease, which affects the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Employees who work with asbestos today are usually safe from inhalation due to the numerous guidelines regulating its utilization, presence at job sites and scrapping. Even up to the last part of the 20th century, however, workers all too often were told to toil in areas in which air filled with asbestos dust was unfiltered; in most cases, the dangers posed by asbestos inhalation were little understood. And if the employer failed to offer showers, workers took asbestos dust home with them in their clothes and hair, thereby exposing family members to this deadly toxin.

Mesothelioma prognosis can be encouraging when caught early. People who worked at this site at any time in the past, as well as those who lived with them, are encouraged to learn more about these health conditions and tell their family doctors about their history of exposure to asbestos, because the symptoms of diseases such as mesothelioma can be mistaken for those of other conditions.

Sources

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 Rico.” Presentation at American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, 2007.

Tampa Electric Corporate Website. “Big Bend Power Station.”
http://www.tampaelectric.com/news/powerstation/bigbend/

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