Resources for Patients and their Families

Colbert Power Plant

The Colbert Power Plant is located in Alabama near the Pickwick Reservoir on the Tennessee River. A coal-fired power station, it is a government facility owned and operated by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Electricity is generated by five steam turbine units, generating nearly 1200 megawatts per year.

Four of the units are fueled by low-sulfur coal; in addition, one unit has been fitted with a catalytic reduction system since 2004. It is estimated that by 2010, the TVA will have spent $6 billion on controlling emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide pollution. Nonetheless, the EPA has included the Colbert Plant on its list of forty-four “high hazard” coal ash dumps.

Prior to the early 1980s, asbestos-containing materials were used extensively throughout the construction of power generation plants of all types, from hydroelectric to nuclear. The reasons have to do with the usual hazards in such facilities: flame, heat and electricity. “Blue” crocidolite asbestos is a particularly effective electrical insulator; it is also one of the deadliest varieties of asbestos, known to cause mesothelioma.

Unfortunately, asbestos was found in virtually everything from flame-retardant paint to the very machinery used to generate power. In the latter context, it is especially hazardous, as the moving parts could eject millions of fibers into the building environment. This was dangerous not only for workers, but their family members as well – who suffered secondary exposure when such fibers that had settled in workers' hair and clothing was brought into the home. Those who have been exposed to asbestos should seek medical attention at any of the mesothelioma clinics in their area.

Medical researchers in Puerto Rico examined chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers and discovered signs of asbestos disease in over 130 of them. Power plants such as Colbert are regarded as some of the most hazardous industrial jobsites when it comes to asbestos exposure.

Because of its ability to block fire, the naturally occurring fibrous mineral known as asbestos was commonly used in almost all factories, mills, power plants and worksites all over the US. Although using asbestos was generally considered a way to reduce the risk of injury, it sadly all too often had the opposite effect. Exposure to asbestos while at work has resulted in serious illness for thousands of people. The illnesses linked to exposure to asbestos include pleural plaques and cancer of the lungs; the greatest chance of developing these conditions occurs when products containing asbestos become fragile, releasing strands into the environment where they are easy to inhale or ingest. The most deadly of the asbestos-caused diseases is mesothelioma, which is a form of cancer that affects the lining of the abdominal cavity; it is a disease that usually kills within two years of diagnosis.

People who work around asbestos now are generally protected from contact due to the many guidelines regulating its use, presence at job sites and demolition. Even up to the late 1900s, though, workers often were expected to operate in areas in which asbestos dust was not filtered; in most cases, safety procedures were unknown. In addition, workers took asbestos to their homes in their clothes and hair when change rooms were not provided at the job site; as a result, this carcinogen also endangered offspring of those who worked around asbestos. Workers who have been negligently exposed should seek legal counsel from a mesothelioma lawyer.

Asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma often take many years to appear, and their symptoms are often difficult to distinguish from those of other conditions, so those who were employed at such plants at any time in the past, as well as their family members, are advised to speak with their physicians about their history of asbestos contact.



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.

Sourcewatch. “Colbert Fossil Plant.”

Tennessee Valley Authority. “Colbert Fossil Plant.”

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