Recently, the Louisiana division of the Entergy Corporation made the decision to convert its currently gas-fired Little Gypsy Power Plant in Montz, Louisiana to coal and oil.
The plant is located approximately 30 miles west of New Orleans. According to Entergy's proposal, the .53 gigawatt facility will use a new technology known as “circulating fluidized bed.”
The project has run into a great deal of opposition not only from individuals, but from the business community as well. This broad opposition coalition has brought together some odd bedfellows, such as the Wal-Mart Corporation and the Sierra Club; the former argues that the conversion will increase energy costs, while the latter has brought legal action against Entergy under the Clean Air Act. Under pressure from the public and the legislature, the Louisiana Public Service Commission has ordered Entergy to suspend the project for at least three years.
Prior to the early 1980s, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used liberally throughout power generation plants, due largely to the combination of heat and electrical resistance and low cost. While saving billions in property damage however, it has cost billions more in terms of human health; though relatively rare, asbestos cancers are painful and expensive to treat.
The health dangers of asbestos were hidden from the public by the same corporations that manufactured and marketed asbestos products for over four decades. During that time, workers carried out their duties in asbestos-filled environments. In addition, family members suffered “secondary exposure” to asbestos when asbestos fibers were brought into the home on the clothing and in the hair of these employees.
In 2007, a Puerto Rican study was published in which the risk of power plant employment was demonstrated. Doctors in the territory examined the chest x-rays of 1100 such workers. Factoring out the use of tobacco, fully 13% of the x-rays showed signs of asbestos disease.
Anyone who worked at a PG&E Power Plant before the1980s and their families should discuss the possibility of asbestos exposure with their family physician. Symptoms of mesothelioma are not usually apparent until many decades after initial exposure; in addition, the early symptoms often mimic those of many other respiratory diseases. However, thanks to new diagnostic tools, pathologists now have the capability to detect the preliminary “markers” of mesothelioma, so the disease can be treated in its early stages.
In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, it was usual for plants, mills, and factories to use the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because it provided high resistance to heat and electricity. While asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly protected people from injury and even death, the unexpected results of its use were tragic, as thousands of employees contracted serious illness and even died due to exposure to asbestos. The reason is that asbestos strands, when inhaled or ingested, can infiltrate the lungs and cause serious illnesses including pleural plaques and cancer of the lungs. Furthermore, job-related exposure to asbestos is a known cause of the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma, which affects the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma). The cancer can be treated with mesothelioma chemotherapy from doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker in Boston, MA. at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Today, we are much more knowledgeable about the dangers associated with inhaling asbestos, and laws ensure the well-being of those who work with or near friable asbestos. In the past, however, laborers without respiratory equipment commonly toiled in areas thick with asbestos dust. In addition, workers carried asbestos home with them in their clothes and hair when change rooms weren't offered at the company; the consequence of this was that the potentially deadly mineral also endangered children of those who worked around asbestos.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses can take a very long time to manifest, and their symptoms are often mistaken for those of less serious conditions; therefore, those who were employed at these jobsites at any time in the past, as well as their family members, should talk with their doctors about their history of exposure to asbestos.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.
Sourcewatch. "Little Gypsy Repowering."
Morford, Stacey. "Another State Urges Utility to Think Twice About New Power Plant Plans." SolveClimate, 12 March 2009.