The Dixie Valley Power plant is located about 120 miles east of Reno, Nevada. Originally constructed in the 1980s by Oxbow Geothermal Corporation, it is the largest geothermal plant in the state. Drawing on geothermal resources at temperatures in excess of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, the facility has a generative capacity of 66 megawatts. In addition, this geothermal fluid appears to be a rich source of silica, which has many industrial uses.
Older power plants constructed prior to 1980 had large amounts of asbestos-containing materials that could be found in and around:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
It is hardly surprising that industrial safety experts consider power generation facilities to be some of the most dangerous jobsites when it concerns asbestos exposure. This incidentally was not only a hazard to the worker, but to his family as well; asbestos fibers could be carried home in a worker's hair and clothing, subjecting family members to what is known as “secondary exposure.” There are several documented cases of a family member developing mesothelioma as the result of this type of exposure.
Further documentation of the health hazards of power plants came out of a 2003 Puerto Rican study in which doctors examined the chest x-rays of 1100 workers from such facilities. Once tobacco use was taken into consideration, it was found that 13% of the subjects showed early signs of respiratory disease caused by asbestos.
The truth about industrial asbestos was finally established beyond all doubt in 1977 with the revelation of the “Sumner Simpson Papers,” which documented a forty-year conspiracy among corporations that manufactured and sold asbestos products. W.R. Grace, Johns-Manville and others had spent a great deal of money and resources to keep such information from the public, despite the fact that medical science had confirmed the toxicity of asbestos hazards by the late 1930s.
Current and former power plant employees should discuss the possibilities of exposure with their family physicians and get frequent checkups if possible. Although mesothelioma is deadly, it can be treated if caught in the early stages. Fortunately, new technologies have made it possible for pathologists to detect the “markers” indicating the early stages of mesothelioma before symptoms become apparent. If caught early, treatments like mesothelioma chemotherapy are available from doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker in Boston, MA. at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, it was usual for industrial sites of all types to utilize the mineral asbestos because of its insulating properties. While asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly protected people from injury and even death, the unintended results of its use were horrible: numerous workers suffered serious illness and even died because of asbestos exposure. The reason is that asbestos fibers, when inhaled, embed themselves into respiratory passages, leading to debilitating illnesses including pleural plaques and cancer of the lungs. Also, workplace contact with asbestos is the primary cause of the almost always fatal form of cancer called mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (pericardial mesothelioma).
Because researchers have shown the relationship between being exposed to asbestos and conditions such as lung cancer, 21st-century laborers are protected by health and safety statutes that control how asbestos is used. However, in the past, laborers without protective equipment frequently toiled in areas thick with asbestos dust. Spouses were also subjected to asbestos exposure if workplaces did not provide ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, as employees took asbestos to their homes on their skin or in their hair.
Because health conditions like lung cancer and mesothelioma may not develop until a very long time after a person first is exposed to asbestos, those who had jobs at contaminated sites, as well as their family members, should talk about their history of asbestos exposure with their physicians no matter how far back they worked there.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.
Online Nevada Encyclopedia. “Dixie Valley Geothermal Field.”