The Merrimack Station is New Hampshire's largest coal-fired power plant, located in the town of Bow. It was one of the several fossil-fuel plants constructed in the 1970s to replace hydroelectric plants that were shut down due to the unreliability of river currents in the region.
With a generative capacity of 478 megawatts, the Merrimack Power Plant provides power for 200,000 residential and small business customers through the use of two coal-fired units; there are also two fuel-oil combustion turbines that are used in times of peak demand.
Because the plant emits a large amount of airborne pollutants, several residents in the area have called for it to be shut down. Unfortunately, Merrimack also accounts for over 65% of the electricity generated in New Hampshire. Attempts have been made to reduce emissions at the plant, and scrubbers installed in 2006 have actually reduced the amount of mercury by approximately 80%.
Asbestos use at older power generation facilities such as Merrimack are also known for their asbestos hazard. While asbestos from power plants is not a particular danger to the general public, it subjects maintenance workers and engineers to a high degree of risk from mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.
Asbestos was likely to be found throughout the structures and in the moving machinery as well. Once these fibers were loose in the building environment, there were not only inhaled and ingested by workers, but were likely to become lodged in hair and clothing, where they were brought into the home – exposing family members.
The danger to power plant workers were highlighted in a 2003 study in Puerto Rico, in which the chest x-rays of 1100 such workers were analyzed. When tobacco use was factored out, over 130 of the images showed signs of asbestos disease. Today, industrial safety experts consider power generation facilities to be among the most dangerous for asbestos exposure.
Although the use of asbestos-containing materials was phased out beginning around 1980, anyone who worked at a power generating facility before the 1980s, or had a family member so employed, should discuss it with their doctor and get checked frequently. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, and by the time symptoms are apparent, it is usually too late to treat the disease. However, recent advances in biotechnology have made it possible for pathologists to detect the early “markers” of the disease; when diagnosed in its initial stages, asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma can usually be treated successfully.
This facility was one of a multitude of factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, during most of the 20th century, utilized asbestos for its ability to withstand heat. It is ironic that saving lives was almost always one of the main justifications for using asbestos in worksites for the result was in fact to put people at risk of serious illness due to exposure to asbestos. The disorders associated with asbestos exposure include pleural plaques and cancer of the lungs; the greatest chance of contracting these conditions happens when materials containing asbestos become friable, releasing particles into the air where they are easy to inhale. Also, workplace contact with asbestos can lead to the extremely hard to treat cancer known as mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Today, regulators are much more knowledgeable about the dangers associated with being exposed to asbestos, and responsible employers ensure the well-being of people who work with or near this dangerous substance. In earlier days, though, laborers often were told to operate in spaces in which air filled with asbestos particles was not filtered; in many cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were not explained. And if workplaces didn't offer showers and decontamination methods, employees inadvertently transported asbestos home in their work garments, which exposed others in their household to this dangerous substance.
Those who were employed at this site in the past, as well as their partners and children, should learn more about these health conditions and tell their healthcare professionals about their history of asbestos contact, because the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases like pleural mesothelioma are often mistaken for those of other, less serious conditions. Workers who could have been negligently exposed should seek the legal counsel of a mesothelioma attorney.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.
Public Service of New Hampshire (date unknown). Merrimack Station.