The Cuming County Public Power District was founded in 1936 in order to provide electrical energy to ranchers and farmers in rural Nebraska. The first families began accessing the new grid two years later in 1938.
This non-profit, ratepayer owned utility now serves over 4000 customers in the towns of Bancroft, Beemer and Dodge.
All power generation plants share the same challenges and issues, regardless of ownership or type of generation (hydro, nuclear, fossil fuel or gas).
In 2007, a Puerto Rican study was published in which the dangers of power plant employment was demonstrated. Doctors in the territory examined the chest x-rays of 1100 such workers. Factoring out the use of tobacco, fully 13% of the x-rays showed signs of asbestos disease.
In most industries, asbestos insulation was sprayed onto machinery, pipes and electrical conduits. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were also present in the gasket materials used for pipe fittings, valves and pumps. Paints and flooring as well as wall board and building insulation contained substantial amounts of asbestos as well. As this insulation ages, it begins to crumble, or become friable.
Since the dangers of asbestos has been known (the information finally came out in 1977 after a forty-year corporate cover-up), asbestos in power plants has either been removed or sealed up with resin compounds. In addition, both the EPA and OHSA have issued strong worker-protection rules; approved respirators and even HAZMAT must be available to workers whose duties requires them to carry out tasks in known or suspected asbestos hazard areas.
Virtually everyone today has been exposed to some amount of asbestos; it normally requires high concentrations over a lengthy period of time in order for asbestos disease to develop. Other factors that determine asbestos disease risk include tobacco use and family history of cancer.
Anyone who worked at a power generation plant before the1980s and their families should discuss the possibility of asbestos exposure with their family physician. Symptoms of mesothelioma are not usually apparent until many decades after initial exposure; in addition, the early symptoms often mimic those of many other respiratory diseases. However, thanks to new diagnostic tools, pathologists now have the capability to detect the preliminary “markers” of mesothelioma, so the disease can be treated in its early stages with mesothelioma chemotherapy from oncologists like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.
Through the 1970s, it was extremely common for industrial sites of all types to be constructed with the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because it provided high resistance to heat and electricity. Although asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly protected people and property in the short term, the eventual consequences of using it were tragic: thousands of employees contracted serious illness and even died because of inhalation of or other contact with asbestos. The reason is that asbestos fibers, if inhaled or ingested, embed themselves into respiratory passages, leading to life-threatening illnesses including "miner's lung" and cancer of the lungs. In addition, job-related contact with asbestos can lead to the almost always fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma, which affects the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (pericardial mesothelioma).
People who work with asbestos in present times are generally protected from exposure because of the many guidelines controlling its utilization, inclusion in products and scrapping. Those who worked near job sites containing asbestos prior to the implementation of such laws, however, often spent their shifts in spaces where asbestos microfibers were prevalent, and they typically were offered little or no information concerning safe ways to handle the mineral. Family members were also subjected to asbestos exposure if workplaces did not provide showers, because employees carried asbestos particles home in their work garments.
Diseases such as mesothelioma frequently take 20 years or more to appear, and the signs of these illnesses can be difficult to distinguish from those of less serious conditions, so men and women who were employed at these jobsites during their careers, as well as their spouses and children, are advised to chat with their doctors about their history of asbestos contact.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.
Cumming County Public Power District Website. “History.”