The Conesville Generating Station is a coal-fired power plant in the Ohio town of the same name. The plant came online in 1973 and has six units with a combined generative capacity of 1.6 gigawatts. It is owned jointly by American Electric Power, Duke Energy and Dayton Power & Light.
Conesville is ranked among the worst polluters in the U.S., which includes most coal-fired plants in the East. sulfur dioxide emissions are high, and other toxic wastes have made their way into the groundwater as well as the air. In addition, asbestos insulation has been used heavily throughout the facility.
Whether nuclear, fossil-fueled or hydro-powered, all electrical generation facilities constructed prior to 1980 have had asbestos exposure issues.
Asbestos is more than a flame retardant; the “blue” and “brown” varieties most likely to cause asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma are also excellent electrical insulators. Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively throughout the construction of power plants prior to 1980. Some of the areas in which asbestos-containing materials were found include:
- fire doors
- electrical cloth
- pipe fittings and conduits
- gasket materials
- turbines and other machinery
Power generation plant workers are at high risk from asbestos exposure and are substantially more likely to contract disease such as pleural mesothelioma. In 2003, Puerto Rican researchers analyzed the chest x-rays of 1,100 workers who had worked at least fifteen years in such a facility. 13% of the images showed signs of asbestos disease.
This has also been an issue for the family members of power plant workers; asbestos fibers could become lodged in clothing and in hair. Thus carried into the home, it resulted in what is known as “secondary exposure” to spouses and children, some of whom developed asbestos cancer themselves later in life.
Those who were employed at a power generation plant prior to 1980 as well as their families should have regular health screenings if possible and discuss the asbestos exposure with their primary care physician. When diagnosed and treated early, asbestos cancer patients have a much better prognosis, although cancer that has been removed can recur; in most cases, lifetime monitoring is necessary.
Given its ability to block fire, the naturally occurring fibrous mineral known as asbestos could commonly be found in many factories, mills, power plants and worksites throughout the US. Although the use of asbestos was intended in many cases to protect human life, it unfortunately all too often had the opposite effect: exposure to asbestos associated with work has resulted in illness and death for thousands of people. The reason for this is that asbestos strands, when inhaled, damage respiratory passages, leading to serious diseases including asbestosis and cancer. Furthermore, job-related asbestos exposure can lead to the extremely hard to treat cancer known as mesothelioma, which affects the cells that line the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Today, we are aware of the risks of being exposed to asbestos, and health and safety statutes protect those whose jobs put them in contact with this material. Even up to the late 1900s, though, workers often were told to operate in areas in which asbestos dust was not filtered; in many cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were unknown. And if the employer did not provide facilities to wash off asbestos fibers, workers carried particles of asbestos home with them in their clothes and hair, thereby exposing others in their household to the risk of asbestos-related diseases.
Because health conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma often don't develop until many years after asbestos exposure first occurs, men and women who worked at asbestos-contaminated sites, as well as those who lived with them, should talk about their history of asbestos exposure with their medical care providers regardless of how far back they worked there. Workers who may have been negligently exposed to asbestos should seek counsel 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.
Dickerson, K. "New unit ready to go online." Coshocton Tribune. 14 May 2009.