The Independence Steam Station is a coal-fired power station owned and operated by Entergy and located outside of Newark, Arkansas.
According to a report in USA Today, the plant puts out substantial amounts of toxic manganese and manganese compounds. These environmental toxins have had an effect on several elementary and high schools in the area.
In addition, asbestos has long been a hazard associated with such facilities.
While asbestos was unlikely to affect the general public, power plant employees are among those industrial workers at greatest risk for developing asbestos diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. This was demonstrated in a 2003 Puerto Rican medical study, in which chest x-rays of 1100 power plant workers were taken and examined for abnormalities. After factoring out cigarette smoking, it was discovered that over 130 of the x-rays showed early signs of asbestos disease. According to industrial health and safety experts, power generation plants are among the worst industrial worksites for asbestos exposure.
The reason is not only because asbestos is an excellent flame retardant; it is an excellent form of electrical insulation as well, particularly the “blue” crocidolite variety. Such asbestos was used in several places:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
Crocidolite is considered an exceptionally potent form of asbestos; its hard, spear-like fibers can drill straight through lung and other tissues, causing cells to mutate at the DNA level and become malignant.
The tragedy is compounded when one considers secondary exposure to family members. This resulted when power plant workers unwittingly brought asbestos fibers home in their hair and on their clothing.
Those who were themselves employed at a power plant or had a family member who worked at one prior to 1980 should tell their primary care physician and arrange to get frequent checkups if possible. Although mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose, recent advances in biotechnology allow pathologists to detect the early signs of such cancers when they are still treatable, bettering mesothelioma prognosis.
Up until the 1980s, it was extremely common for factories, mills, power plants and worksites to be built with the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because it provided high resistance to heat and electricity. It is ironic that reducing the risk of injury was usually one of the driving justifications behind using asbestos in companies because the result was actually to place workers in danger of serious illness due to contact with asbestos. The illnesses caused by asbestos include asbestosis and lung cancer; the greatest risk of developing these conditions happens when asbestos-containing products become fragile, releasing particles into the air where they are easy to inhale. In addition, mesothelioma, which is a fast-growing and mostly untreatable cancer affecting the lining surrounding the lungs, is known to be caused by mild to moderate asbestos exposure.
Today, regulators are much more knowledgeable about the risks of being exposed to asbestos, and responsible employers ensure the well-being of employees whose jobs put them in contact with friable asbestos. People who worked around job sites containing asbestos prior to the implementation of such laws, however, usually spent their work days in sites where asbestos was prevalent, and they typically were offered very little guidance regarding how to work safely with the mineral. Spouses were also exposed to asbestos when employers failed to provide showers, as employees took asbestos particles to their homes in their clothes and hair.
Since asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma disease don't manifest until decades after a person first is exposed to asbestos, men and women who worked at contaminated sites, as well as family members of such workers, are encouraged to talk about their history of contact with asbestos with their physicians regardless of how long ago they worked there.Sources
Arkansas DEQ. “Arkansas Power And Light Company: Independence Steam Electric Station.”
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.
N/A. “Special Report: The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America's Schools.” USA Today
SourceWatch. “Independence Steam Station.”