Resources for Patients and their Families

Colstrip Power Plant

The Colstrip Power Plant consists of four coal-fired generating units capable of producing over 2 gigawatts. The first two units came online in the mid-1970s, with the others starting operations a decade later. Located just east of Billings, Montana, the Colstrip facility is jointly owned by PPL Generation LLC, Puget Sound Energy, Inc. Portland General Electric, Avista Inc., Pacificorp and Northwestern Energy LLC.

Colstrip's appetite for fuel is biblical in its proportions. The plant consumes the equivalent of 12 rail car loads of fuel every hour; it is in fact the second largest coal-fired plant in the western U.S. Despite this, Colstrip is able to meet current emission standards through the use of local low-sulfur coal and scrubber technology. In addition, it is ranked as one of the lowest-cost plants in terms of fuel among northwestern states as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.

Colstrip is also one of only three industrial operations in the state of Montana the hold “Star Certification” by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Asbestos has been identified as a job-related safety issue in virtually all power generation facilities constructed prior to the early 1980s. Asbestos offers excellent resistance to both heat and electrical current. Asbestos insulation was used in fire doors, around conduits and inside the machinery itself. While the asbestos-containing materials used in the construction and machinery of power plants were unlikely to pose a major health hazard to the general public, they have been proven to be a serious health risk to power plant maintenance workers and engineers.

A Puerto Rican study published in 2007 signs of asbestos disease in over 130 out of 1100 chest x-rays that had been taken of power plant workers in that country. The findings were further validated by the removal of factors such as tobacco from the data.

Although harmless in its solid state, asbestos materials become brittle with age and begin to crumble into dust. In this condition, it is called friable; asbestos dust is released into the environment. It can be inhaled by workers and often settles in the hair and on the clothing. Family members then receive secondary exposure when such asbestos materials are carried into the home.

Those who were employed at a power generation plant prior to 1980 should get regular checkups if possible and discuss the asbestos exposure with their primary care physician. When diagnosed and treated early, asbestos cancer patients can survive for many years.

Given its high resistance to transferring heat and electricity, asbestos was commonly used in many industrial sites around the country. While asbestos' strength as an insulator undoubtedly protected people from injury and even death, the long-term consequences of using it were devastating, as untold numbers of people suffered serious illness and even died because of asbestos exposure. The reason for this is that strands of asbestos, when inhaled or ingested, can infiltrate the lungs and cause life-threatening health conditions such as pleural plaques and cancer of the lungs. Furthermore, job-related exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of the deadly cancer called mesothelioma, which affects the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma). The disease can be treated with mesothelioma chemotherapy by doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Harvard University's Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Because researchers have demonstrated the relationship between asbestos exposure and diseases like lung cancer, today's laborers are protected by laws that control how asbestos is to be handled. Those who worked near job sites containing asbestos before such rules were implemented, on the other hand, commonly spent their days in sites where asbestos microfibers were prevalent, and they typically were provided with very little guidance about how to minimize risks when dealing with the substance. Family members were also exposed to asbestos if job sites failed to offer workplace-only uniforms, because workers inadvertently transported asbestos particles to their homes on their skin or in their hair.

Those who worked here in the past, as well as their spouses and children, are encouraged to learn more about these health conditions and inform their family doctors about their history of exposure to asbestos, because the signs of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma can be difficult to distinguish from those of other, less serious conditions.



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.

PPL Montana Website. “Colstrip.” ( )

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