Formally known as the James H. Miller, Jr. Electric Generating Plant, the Miller Power Plant became operational in 1978. It is a large coal-fired facility, currently having four units with a generating capacity of over 2.6 million kilowatts. It is fired from coal, natural gas and oil. Owned and operated by Alabama Power (a subsidiary of the Southern Company of Atlanta, Georgia), the Miller Power Plant is located at the juncture of Village Creek and the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River near the town of West Jefferson.
Recently, as the result of a legal settlement between Alabama Power and the Environmental Protection Agency, Miller take drastic steps to curtail its emissions. This will include the installation of new flue gas desulfurization devices, and the purchase of $4.9 million worth of SO2 allowances. Furthermore, the use of selective catalytic reduction technology will be expanded to year-round operation. Compliance with the terms of the settlement is expected to cost Alabama Power approximately $200 million.
Because of its flame retardant characteristics and its usefulness as an electrical insulator, asbestos was used in virtually every industry – including the Gorgas facility. While the use of asbestos saved millions of dollars in property damage as well as spared thousands from the agony of burn injuries, for many it resulted in a range of respiratory illnesses ranging from calcification of lung tissue to full-blown malignancies.
The use of asbestos in building materials was gradually phased out in the 1980s. Today, there are strict worker safety rules regarding asbestos; however, before 1980 workers were exposed to it in various rooms, corridors, among steam pipes and conduits and from the machinery itself. Employees also took asbestos into their homes in their clothing and hair, resulting in secondary exposure among family members. Workers who have been negligently exposed should seek legal counsel from a mesothelioma lawyer.
According to a 2003 Puerto Rican study in which 1100 power plant workers participated, rates of asbestos disease may run as high as 13% among such workers.
Up until the 1980s, it was extremely common for industrial sites of all types to be built with asbestos because it provided high resistance to heat and electricity. It is ironic that saving lives was generally one of the driving reasons for utilizing asbestos in companies because the result was in fact to put people at risk of serious illness due to inhalation of or other contact with asbestos. The reason large numbers of people have suffered from illnesses such as pleural plaques and cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos strands, the mineral embeds itself into internal organs; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage organs. The most serious of the asbestos-caused diseases is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that involves the cells lining the pleural cavity; it is a disease that usually kills within two years of diagnosis.
Today, regulators are aware of the risks of inhaling asbestos, and laws protect those whose jobs put them in contact with this potentially lethal mineral. Even up to the last part of the 20th century, though, workers commonly were told to toil in areas in which air filled with asbestos dust was not filtered; in most cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were unknown. And if companies didn't provide decontamination methods, employees took asbestos to their homes in their clothes and hair, which exposed spouses to the risk of asbestos-related diseases. Those who have been exposed to asbestos should seek medical attention at any of the mesothelioma clinics in their area.
Because health conditions such as lung cancer and mesothelioma may not manifest until a very long time after asbestos exposure first occurs, people who worked at asbestos-contaminated sites, as well as their partners and children, are advised to discuss their history of asbestos exposure with their medical care providers no matter how long ago they worked there.Sources
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.
Environmental Integrity Projects. “Dirty Kilowatts: America's Most Polluting Power Plants.”
Ryan, Dave. “Alabama Power Company to Spend More Than $200 Million Under Clean Air Act Settlement.” EPA, 25 April 2006.