The Golden Valley Electric Plants have been the primary providers of electrical energy to Fairbanks, Alaska for many years. Unfortunately, just as the Fairbanks region was experiencing rapid growth, one of the plants – Healy – had to be shut down in 2000 due to hazardous conditions that included asbestos. Meanwhile, conditions at the aging Zinder plant is forcing Golden Valley Electric to consider restarting Healy, which first came online in 1997. With a capacity of 50 megawatts, Healy may represent Fairbanks' best hope for a reliable source of electrical energy.
More About Healy
While the Zinder plant in downtown Fairbanks continues to operate, it is believed that Healy can provide cleaner energy at a lower cost both in terms of money and to the local environment by burning waste coal.
Like virtually all industrial operations during the first 70 years of the 20th century, the use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) was common throughout Healy's construction, including the buildings themselves and the machinery. Asbestos is resistant not only to heat and flame, but electrical current as well. Over the years, it saved lives and prevented billions of dollars in property loss.
Mesothelioma disease is relatively rare, but painful and deadly. The health hazards were well known to the corporations that produced and marketed ACMs as early as the 1930s, but the knowledge was kept from the general public until litigation in the late 1970s forced the issue out into the open.
Today, the EPA and OSHA have issued regulations that require companies such as Golden Valley Electric to provide a safe work environment for their employees. Violations can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and penalties, and individuals responsible for such violation often face prison time as well.
Asbestos diseases usually have long latency periods; symptoms may not appear for more than twenty years after a person first suffer asbestos exposure. Former employees of Golden Valley Electric Power Plants and their families should discuss and history of asbestos exposure with their primary care providers, as mesothelioma prognosis can be encouraging when the disease is in its early stages but invariably fatal in their latter ones.
This site was one of thousands of factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, in the first two-thirds of the last century, used the mineral asbestos because of its ability to withstand heat. It is ironic that reducing the risk of injury was usually one of the primary justifications behind utilizing asbestos in places for the outcome was in fact to put employees in danger of serious illness or death due to inhalation of or other contact with asbestos. The reason large numbers of workers have fallen ill from illnesses such as pleural plaques and cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos strands, the mineral infiltrates the lungs; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage cells. In addition, mesothelioma, the fast-growing and mostly untreatable cancer affecting the lining surrounding the lungs, is associated with mild to moderate asbestos exposure.
People who work with asbestos in present times are usually protected from contact due to the many laws regulating its use, inclusion in products and disposal. Those who worked around job sites constructed with asbestos prior to the implementation of such laws, on the other hand, usually spent their days in sites where asbestos was prevalent, and they as a rule were offered little or no information regarding how to minimize risks when dealing with the substance. Family members were also subjected to asbestos exposure if job sites didn't offer workplace-only uniforms, because workers carried asbestos particles home with them in their clothes and hair.
People who worked here in the past, as well as their partners and children, should find out about these health conditions and tell their healthcare professionals about their history of exposure to asbestos, because the signs of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma can be mistaken for those of less serious conditions.Sources
Golden Valley Electric Association Website. “Healy Clean Coal Plant (HCCP).” Retrieved April 18, 2009, from
Jones, P. “Powering Fairbanks: Golden Valley Electric Association is Gearing up for a Power Plant Addition” (August 2003).
Nesper, M. (2009, January 15) “Healy Plant Deal Made: Fairbanks Utility to Buy Coal-Fired Power Plant” Peninsula Clarion, 15 January 2009.