Iowa Power and Light was the predecessor of the Alliant Energy Corporation, which today serves 1.4 million customers in the Upper Midwest states of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Providing both electrical energy and natural gas services to homes and small business in the region, most of the facilities are coal or oil-fired; there are also a small number of experimental renewable energy plants.
Alliant’s services cover a 54,000 square-mile region, services by 9700 miles of electric lines and 8000 miles of gas pipelines.
Most of the older plants in the State of Iowa were built in the 1950s and 60s under the operation of the old Iowa Power & Light Company. Virtually all of these power plants had asbestos issues, liability for which has been assumed by the company’s successors.
Before 1980, 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.
With its insulating properties, asbestos (which occurs in forms such as chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite) was often used throughout numerous factories, mills, power plants and worksites throughout the US. Although using asbestos was usually intended to protect human life, it sadly all too often had the opposite effect: asbestos exposure at jobsites has resulted in illness and death for untold numbers people. The health conditions caused by asbestos include pleural plaques and lung cancer; the greatest risk of developing these conditions occurs when products containing asbestos become friable, releasing strands into the air where they are easy to inhale or ingest. Also, mesothelioma, a fast-growing and mostly untreatable cancer affecting the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity, is associated with mild to moderate exposure to asbestos.
Because science has shown the relationship between being exposed to asbestos and conditions like lung cancer, today's workers are protected by health and safety statutes that prescribe how asbestos is used. Those who worked around job sites containing asbestos prior to the passage of such laws, on the other hand, commonly spent their shifts in locations where asbestos microfibers were prevalent, and they as a rule were provided with little or no training regarding how to minimize risks when dealing with the substance. Furthermore, if job sites failed to offer facilities to wash off asbestos fibers, employees carried particles of asbestos to their homes in their work garments, thereby exposing others in their household to this deadly toxin.
People who worked at this site at any time in the past, as well as their partners and children, are advised to learn more about these health conditions and inform their family doctors about their history of asbestos exposure, because the symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses are often difficult to distinguish from those of other, less serious conditions. Doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA. are often able to treat the cancer with mesothelioma chemotherapy.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.
Alliant Energy Corporate Website. "Operations & Organizations."