The R. Gallagher Generating Station has four coal-fired units with a total generative capacity of 560 megawatts. The facility first came online in 1961 and is located on the banks of the Ohio River just outside of New Albany, Indiana.
Gallagher was identified in 2007 as the worst polluter among U.S. power-generation facilities. According to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project, the plant discharged over 40 pounds (a little over 30 kilos) of sulphur dioxide into the environment for every megawatt of electrical energy produced. The plant also discharges about twice as much waste heat into the Ohio River as power produced.
Current efforts are underway to curb emissions with the use of “baghouses,” which are virtual “vacuum cleaners” designed to sequester waste products.
Virtually every electrical power generation facility constructed before the 1980s – such as Gallagher - contain large amounts of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
Before that time, the health hazards of asbestos were largely unknown, although industry insiders at Raysbestos, W.R. Grace, Johns-Manville and other asbestos manufacturers had been well aware of the facts since the 1930s. In 1977, a plaintiff's attorney in an asbestos case discovered papers that outlined the four-decade conspiracy to keep the public ignorant of asbestos dangers.
Flame, excessive heat and electricity are all hazards at power generation plants. Because of this, power generation facilities made extensive use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in their construction; such materials could also be used in the turbine machinery itself. Other asbestos hazards include:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
When these materials became friable (a crumbling state in which fibers are released into the environment), the resulting asbestos dust was not only inhaled, but could become lodged in workers' hair and clothing, subjecting unsuspecting family members to the hazards of secondary exposure.
In 2003, medical researchers in Puerto Rico examined chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers. Signs of asbestos disease were seen in 13% of the subjects. Power plants are considered to be among the most hazardous industrial jobsites when it comes to asbestos by industrial safety experts. This danger was tragically extended to family members as well. Asbestos dust often became lodged in the hair and on the clothing of workers, who then unwittingly brought the substance home. Several recent asbestos cases have centered on instances of asbestos cancers resulting from such secondary exposure.
Those who were employed at such facilities prior to the early 1980s should discuss this with a medical professional if possible and receive frequent check-ups. Asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma have long latency periods; symptoms may not be apparent until several decades after such exposure. However, new tests allow pathologists to test for the protein “markers” that are indicative of the early stages of such cancers. Early detection and treatment can mean a much better long-term prognosis, although lifetime monitoring is usually required.
Through the 1970s, it was standard practice 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 undoubtedly protected people and property in the short term, the unforeseen consequences of its use were tragic: far too many men and women developed 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 and cause debilitating illnesses including "miner's lung" and cancer. Also, mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer of the lining surrounding the lungs, is known to be caused by mild to moderate inhalation of asbestos particles.
People who work with asbestos now are usually safe from exposure because of the many rules controlling its use, inclusion in products and demolition. Even as late as the 1970s, however, workers unprotected by masks or other safety equipment often toiled in areas filled with airborne asbestos. Spouses were also exposed to asbestos when companies didn't provide ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, because employees took asbestos particles to their homes on their clothes or in their hair.
Asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma frequently take a very long time to develop, and symptoms can be mistaken for those of less serious conditions; therefore, those who worked at these sites at any time in the past, as well as those who lived with them, should chat with their doctors about their history of asbestos exposure. When caught early the disease is treatable with mesothelioma chemotherapy, which can be provided by doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Deadly Deception (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.
"Dirty Kilowatts 2007 Report Database". Environmental Integrity Project.
http://www.dirtykilowatts.org/ Retrieved on May, 2008.
Duke Energy Corporate Website. "Gallagher Station."