The Martin Drake Power Plant is a coal-fired electrical generating station located in downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado. Four of the original units have been deactivated; the remaining three units now give the facility a generative capacity of 257 megawatts.
The plant first came online the early 1960s. The three units that now generate power were built between 1961 and 1974; despite their age, all three units continue to meet or exceed modern performance standards.
Like other power generation facilities in Colorado, serious attempts have been made to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants. The facility has been retrofitted with “baghouses” that collect carbon emissions before they can enter the environment. “Fly ash,” which is a byproduct of burning coal, is collected and sold to companies that manufacture concrete and cement products.
Martin Drake Power Plant was only one of many industrial operations of the last century in which asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used as a flame retardant and insulator. At Martin Drake, these materials were likely to be used in:
- fire doors
- electrical cloth
- pipe fittings and conduits
- gasket materials
- turbines and other machinery
As such material ages and deteriorates, it becomes “friable;” that is to say, it crumbles into dust that is inhaled and ingested. Settling in hair and clothing, power plant employees could even unknowingly expose their families to asbestos by bringing it into the home.
The connection between asbestos and cancer has been known to corporations that manufactured asbestos products since the 1930s. However, this information was well-hidden from the public until 1977, when papers were discovered revealing the existence of a conspiracy of silence between asbestos, W.R. Grace, Johns-Manville and other major players in the asbestos industry. In addition to a flood of litigation that has cost billions of dollars, this has also resulted in strict regulations both on the Federal and State levels that have forced industries to provide warnings, training and protection to workers who may be exposed to asbestos.
Because mesothelioma– a deadly form of asbestos cancer – has a very long latency period and is difficult to diagnose, anyone who was employed at the Martin Drake Power Plant as well as those who lived with them should tell their family physicians. Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases can be difficult to distinguish from those of other disorders, but new diagnostic tools can reveal “markers” that indicate the earliest stages of mesothelioma, when treatments are more effective.
This location was one of numerous factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, throughout the first seven decades of the last century, used asbestos for its ability to insulate against fire. While the use of asbestos was generally considered a way to protect human life, it sadly ended up with the opposite effect: asbestos exposure at the workplace has resulted in serious illness for untold numbers employees. The reason for this is that particles of asbestos, if inhaled, embed themselves into internal organs, leading to life-threatening health conditions including "miner's lung" and cancer of the lungs. Furthermore, job-related asbestos exposure is a known cause of the deadly cancer called mesothelioma disease, which affects the cells that line the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Because researchers have shown the relationship between inhaling asbestos and illnesses such as asbestosis, 21st-century workers are protected by laws that prescribe how asbestos is handled. Even up to the last part of the 20th century, though, workers often were told to operate in areas in which asbestos dust was unfiltered; in most cases, safety procedures were not explained. Spouses and children were also subjected to asbestos exposure when workplaces didn't offer ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, because workers took asbestos dust home with them in their clothes and hair.
Because asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma don't develop until 20 years or more after a person first is exposed to asbestos, people who had jobs at asbestos-contaminated sites, as well as their partners and children, are encouraged to talk about their history of asbestos contact with their medical care providers regardless of how long ago they worked there as mesothelioma prognosis is much more encouraging when caught early.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Deadly Deception (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
Source Watch. "Martin Drake Power Plant." SourceWatch.org. 2009.
Power Engineering. "Power Engineering - Martin Drake Power Plant." pepei.pennet.com. August 2005.