As of this writing, the Caithness Long Island Energy Center is still in the planning and construction stage. The site is located near the town of Brookhaven, New York on a 96 acre lot in the Pine Barrens area. It will consist of a single dual-fired, combined-cycle combustion turbine generator with a 350 megawatt capacity. The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), which will operate the plant, reports that the new facility will be gas-fired and use fuel oil as a backup source.
The use of asbestos in the construction of industrial sites was phased out in the 1980s after evidence of the harmful health effects of asbestos became well known as the result of a 1977 case. Although medical science had know about the toxicity of asbestos since the early part of the 20th Century, the asbestos industry spent forty years suppressing this information. Even when medical papers were published in the 1960s, corporations such as W.R. Grace and Johns-Manville issued statements claiming they knew nothing.
This was shown to be a lie when the “Sumner Simpson” papers were discovered at the corporate headquarters of Raysbestos, Inc. in 1977. These papers consisted of correspondence between the CEOs of the major asbestos companies, acknowledging the importance of withholding information on the effects of asbestos from the public, lest their profit margin be adversely affected.
Flame, excessive heat and electricity are all hazards at power generation plants. Because of this, power generation facilities made extensive use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in their construction; such materials could also be used in the turbine machinery itself. Other asbestos hazards include:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
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.
There are alternatives to asbestos that are less toxic. Although there are still 3000 products on the market today that still legally contain asbestos, it would be surprising if such materials were used at Caithness, if for no other reason that LIPA would want to avoid asbestos liability.
With its high resistance to transferring heat and electricity, the mineral asbestos was used frequently in many industrial sites around the country. While asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly protected people from injury and even death, the long-term consequences of using it were devastating: untold numbers of laborers suffered serious illness and even died from asbestos exposure. The reason for this is that strands of asbestos, when inhaled, can infiltrate respiratory passages and cause life-threatening health conditions such as "miner's lung" and cancer of the lungs. The most deadly of the asbestos-linked illnesses is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the chest cavity; it is almost always a death sentence for those who contract it.
Today, we understand the risks of inhaling asbestos, and government regulations ensure the well-being of people who work with or near this material. In earlier days, though, workers commonly were told to toil in areas in which air filled with asbestos dust was not filtered; in many cases, safety procedures were not explained. In addition, workers carried dust containing asbestos home with them on their work clothes when change rooms were not provided at the company; the consequence of this was that this carcinogen also put at risk families of those who worked with asbestos.
Those who were employed here in the past, as well as their partners and children, should find out about these health conditions and tell their family doctors about their history of exposure to asbestos, because the symptoms of diseases such as pleural mesothelioma can be difficult to distinguish from those of other conditions. Workers who could have been exposed negligently to asbestos are encouraged to speak with a mesothelioma attorney.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America. 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.
Long Island Progressive Association. “FACT SHEET ON LIPA's PROPOSED CAITHNESS LONG ISLAND ENERGY CENTER.”