The Carl E. Bailey Generating Station is a smaller power plant located in Augusta, Arkansas. With a single unit that came online in 1966, Bailey is primarily gas-fired, but can also run on #6 fuel oil when necessary. Owned by the Arkansas Electrical Co-operative Corporation, it has a generation capacity of 122 megawatts.
As an older power generation facility, asbestos is likely to have been used in its construction. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were employed primarily because of their resistance to fire and heat; however, the “blue” crocidolite variety is also an excellent form of electrical insulation. This type of asbestos is also quite deadly; although all types of asbestos are known to play a part in the development of lung cancer, crocidolite and amosite (“brown” asbestos) are known to work much faster in causing the cellular mutations that result in cancers such as mesothelioma.
ACMs were common building materials in any event, but in power plants, they were found almost everywhere:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
In moving machinery such as turbines, ACMs created a particular hazard by ejecting millions of asbestos fibers into the air, where they were not only inhaled and ingested, but settled in worker's hair and on their clothing as well. Tragically, they unknowingly brought these fibers into their homes, where secondary exposure to family members resulted. There are several documented cases in which wives and children developed mesothelioma disease as a result of such exposure.
In 2003, medical researchers in Puerto Rico examined chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers. The results of the study, published in 2007, showed that there were indications of asbestos disease in 13% of the subjects. Power plants such as Bailey are regarded by industrial health experts as the most hazardous of industrial jobsites when it comes to asbestos.
Those who were employed at Bailey, particularly before the early 1980s, are well advised to discuss this with their family doctors and receive full physical exams whenever possible. Mesothelioma prognosis can be discouraging as the disease can have a latency period of as long as sixty years, by which time the disease is too far advanced for anything but palliative treatments. However, with early diagnosis, mesothelioma can be treated effectively, and recent advances in technology have made it much easier for pathologists to detect the “markers” of the disease at an early stage.
This installation was one of many factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, in much of the last century, used asbestos for its ability to insulate against heat. While the use of asbestos was intended in many cases to save lives, it unfortunately often had the opposite effect: asbestos exposure associated with work has resulted in illness and death for thousands of employees. The reason for this is that particles of asbestos, when inhaled or ingested, damage internal organs, leading to life-threatening health conditions such as pleural plaques and lung cancer. The most serious of the asbestos-linked diseases is mesothelioma, a type of cancer that involves the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the chest cavity; it is very difficult to treat, and patients seldom live more than two years after being diagnosed.
Because numerous studies have shown the relationship between inhaling asbestos and illnesses such as lung cancer, 21st-century workers are protected by laws that prescribe how asbestos is to be handled. Even as late as the 1970s, however, laborers without respiratory equipment often toiled in areas filled with airborne asbestos. Furthermore, if job sites did not provide decontamination methods, workers carried asbestos fibers home in their clothes and hair, which exposed family members to the risk of asbestos-related diseases.
Men and women who worked at this site at any time in their job history, as well as those who lived with them, are advised to learn more about these health conditions and inform their family doctors about their history of asbestos contact, because the signs of diseases such as mesothelioma can be difficult to distinguish from those of less serious conditions.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.
Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas Website. “Carl E. Bailey Generating Station.”