The Lewis & Clark Station is a pulverized coal-fired unit which can also use full-load natural gas. Owned and operated by the Montana-Dakota Utilities Company, it is located just outside Sidney Montana. With a total capacity of 480 megawatts, Lewis & Clark first came online in 1958.
Asbestos has long been a hazard associated with such facilities. Tragically, this was yet another example of how psychopathic corporate greed trumped concern for human welfare. Medical scientists had begun to suspect the toxicity of asbestos around 1900; by the 1930s, the connection between asbestos and lung disease was well established,
Unfortunately, much of this early research had been paid for by the asbestos industry itself. For over forty years, corporations such as W.R. Grace and Johns-Manville engaged in a conspiracy to suppress all health information relate
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. Mesothelioma chemotherapy is available as a form of treatment from doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.
With its high resistance to transferring heat and electricity, the naturally occurring fibrous mineral known as asbestos could commonly be found within numerous job sites all over the US. Although the use of asbestos was intended in many cases to protect human life, it unfortunately often had the opposite effect. Exposure to asbestos associated with work has resulted in illness and death for thousands of laborers. The reason for this is that asbestos strands, when inhaled, damage respiratory passages, leading to serious illnesses including "miner's lung" and cancer of the lungs. Furthermore, a history of asbestos exposure can cause the extremely hard to treat cancer known as mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the cells that line the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (pericardial mesothelioma).
Now, we are much more knowledgeable about the dangers associated with being exposed to asbestos, and health and safety statutes protect people whose jobs put them in contact with this material. Even up to the last part of the 20th century, though, workers frequently were forced to toil in spaces in which air filled with asbestos dust was not filtered; in many cases, the dangers posed by asbestos inhalation were unknown. Moreover, workers brought asbestos particles home in their clothes and hair when decontamination procedures were not provided at the workplace; the consequence of this was that this potentially deadly mineral also endangered children of those who worked near asbestos.
People who worked at this site during their career, as well as their family members, are advised to learn more about these health conditions and tell their family doctors about their history of exposure to asbestos, because the signs of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma are often difficult to distinguish from those of other conditions.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.
Partners For Affordable Energy. “Lewis & Clark Station.”