The Fort Pierce Municipal Power Plant was closed down and dismantled several years ago; it has since been replaced by the new Treasure Coast Energy Center. This is a 300 megawatt natural gas-fired power plant that provides power to some 60,000 homes in the 15 St. Lucie County communities. The new facility operates under the auspices of the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA).
The Treasure Coast facility came online in 2008, and has since demonstrated a level of performance that is 40% better than the old Fort Pierce Municipal Power Plant it replaced. With an uptime rate of 95%, the new power plant has performed beyond the expectations of FMPA.
Because Treasure Coast is a new facility, there is virtually no likelihood that asbestos poses a hazard to current workers. The same cannot be said for the old facility, however.
Asbestos use at older power generation facilities such as the one at Flint Creek are also known for their asbestos hazard. While asbestos from power plants is not a particular danger to the general public, it subjects maintenance workers and engineers to a high degree of risk from mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.
Asbestos was likely to be found throughout the structures and in the moving machinery as well. Once these fibers were loose in the building environment, there were not only inhaled and ingested by workers, but were likely to become lodged in hair and clothing, where they were brought into the home – exposing family members.
The danger to power plant workers were highlighted in a 2003 study in Puerto Rico, in which the chest x-rays of 1100 such workers were analyzed. When tobacco use was factored out, over 130 of the images showed signs of asbestos disease. Today, industrial safety experts consider power generation facilities to be among the most dangerous for asbestos exposure.
Although the use of asbestos-containing materials was phased out beginning around 1980, anyone who worked at a power generating facility before the 1980s, or had a family member so employed, should discuss it with their doctor and get checked frequently. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, and by the time symptoms are apparent, it is usually too late to treat the disease. However, recent advances in biotechnology have made it possible for pathologists to detect the early “markers” of the disease; when diagnosed in its initial stages, mesothelioma prognosis can be encouraging.
Because of its ability to block fire, asbestos was frequently used in almost all work sites around the country. Although asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly saved lives, the unexpected results of its use were horrible, and thousands of employees contracted serious illness and even died from asbestos exposure. The reason large numbers of people have suffered from diseases such as "miner's lung" and lung cancer is that when humans inhale asbestos fibers, the mineral embeds itself into respiratory passages; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage cells. Also, job-related contact with asbestos can lead to the almost always fatal form of cancer called mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the cells that line the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Those who work around asbestos in present times are usually protected from exposure because of the extensive body of guidelines controlling its use, presence at job sites and scrapping. Even up to the late 1900s, though, workers commonly were expected to toil in areas in which air filled with asbestos dust was not filtered; in many cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were little understood. And if workplaces did not offer decontamination methods, employees carried particles of asbestos home in their clothes and hair, which exposed family members to this dangerous substance.
Diseases such as mesothelioma disease frequently take a very long time to develop, and the symptoms of these disorders can be difficult to distinguish from those of less serious conditions; therefore, men and women who worked at these installations at any time in the past, as well as their spouses and children, are advised to chat with their physicians about their history of exposure to asbestos.Sources
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.
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