Four Corners Power Plant is a coal-fired facility located on the Navajo Indian Nation Reservation out side of Fruitland, New Mexico. One of the largest coal-fired generating stations in the nation, it has a total generative capacity of over 2 gigawatts and provides electrical energy to 300,000 residents and small businesses throughout the Southwest.
The location was chosen for its ready access to a supply of coal. It became operative in 1963, and is operated by the Arizona Public Service Company, which owns Units 1 2 and 3. The other two units are owned jointly by:
- Southern California Edison
- Arizona Public Service
- El Paso Electric
- Salt River Project
- Tucson Electric Power
Amphibole asbestos is an excellent electrical insulator, and was used extensively throughout the construction of power generation facilities such as Four Corners. ACMs could be found in electrical cloth, conduits and even the machinery itself, including turbines and generators. Asbestos inside machinery has especially hazardous, since it could eject millions of friable asbestos fibers into the immediate environment while in motion.
A Puerto Rican study published in 2007 examined the chest x-rays of over 1,100 workers; more than 130 of them showed signs of asbestos disease.
Diseases such as asbestos cancer (lung cancer and mesothelioma) and asbestosis are serious risks among power plant workers – and their families as well, since asbestos fibers were able to travel home in workers' hair and on their clothing. Several recent court cases have demonstrated the danger of such “secondary exposure.”
Pleural mesothelioma is a very slow-growing malignancy; early symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory disease (it can affect the abdominal cavity and heart as well), and may not appear until two to six decades after the patient's first exposure to asbestos. It is therefore a very difficult disease to diagnose, and by the time such a diagnosis is confirmed, the disease is usually far advanced. Patients usually do not survive more than two years after such a diagnosis.
Fortunately, there is a new method that was recently approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA that allows pathologists to detect the “markers” of mesothelioma in its earliest stages. Anyone who was employed at Nucla prior to the 1980s as well as their family members should be checked out by a physician early and often, since prognosis is much better when the disease is treated in its initial stages.
This location was one of numerous factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, during much of the 1900s, utilized asbestos for its ability to withstand flame. It is ironic that protecting lives was typically one of the main reasons for utilizing asbestos in places for the result was actually to put people at risk of serious illness due to exposure to asbestos. The reason is that strands of asbestos, when inhaled or ingested, embed themselves into internal organs, leading to life-threatening diseases such as asbestosis and cancer of the lungs. In addition, mesothelioma, the nearly always fatal cancer affecting the cells that line the chest cavity, has been proven to be caused by even low levels of asbestos exposure.
People who work with asbestos in present times are usually protected from contact because of the numerous guidelines controlling its utilization, presence at job sites and scrapping. People 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; therefore, men and women who were employed at these jobsites during their careers, as well as their spouses and children, are advised to speak with their medical care providers about their history of asbestos contact. Those workers who believe they have been negligently exposed should seek the legal consulatation of 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.
PNM. “Four Corners Power Plant.”