Resources for Patients and their Families

Montana Power Company

The Montana Power Company (MPC) was founded in 1912 for the consolidation of several hydroelectric plants in the state. The founder, John Ryan, was the president of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company; the connection between these two corporate behemoths would lead to conflicts in the 1960s when MPC attempted to raise electric rates, which would affect Anaconda's bottom line.

In 1997, MPC sold off its power generation facilities to Pennsylvania Power & Light and Northwestern Energy LLC. Hoping to cash in on the Internet boom of the late 1990s, MPC restructured itself as Touch America Holdings, a telecommunications company. After building a massive fiber optic network, the company was bankrupted by the “dot-com bust” of the early 21st Century and filed for Chapter 11 in 2003. As of 2008, the company was still a named defendant in several claims on its remaining assets.

Some of these actions involve asbestos.

As was the case for virtually every industrial operation prior to 1980, the use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) was common throughout the construction of power generation facilities, including the buildings themselves and the machinery. Asbestos is resistant not only to heat and flame, but caustic chemicals and electrical current as well. Over the years, the use of ACMs have saved lives and prevented billions of dollars in property loss.

Asbestos disease is relatively rare, but also painful and invariably fatal. The industrial health hazards were well known to ACM manufacturers by the 1930s, but the knowledge was kept a secret for over forty years before a court case in 1977 forced the issue out into the open.

Today, there are strong regulations that have been issued by the EPA and OSH, requiring companies such as AECC to provide a safe work environment. Violations can result in large monetary fines and other penalties; individuals responsible may also face prison time.

Asbestos diseases typically have very long latency periods. Symptoms may not appear for as much as sixty years after a person is first exposed to asbestos. Former employees of the MPC or its successors as well as their families should discuss the possibility of asbestos exposure with their primary care providers; early diagnosis is the key to long-term survival.

Up until the 1980s, it was extremely common for industrial sites of all types to utilize the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because of its resistance to heat, flame and electrical current. Even though asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly saved lives, the eventual results of its use were devastating, as thousands of people developed serious illness and even died from exposure to asbestos. The disorders linked to exposure to asbestos include pleural plaques and lung cancer; the biggest chance of developing these conditions happens when asbestos-containing materials become friable, releasing microfibers into the air where they are easy to inhale. Also, mesothelioma, the rare but deadly cancer of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity, has been proven to be caused by mild to moderate asbestos exposure.

People whose jobs put them in contact with asbestos now are usually safe from inhalation because of the extensive body of rules regulating its utilization, inclusion in products and disposal. Even as late as the 1970s, however, laborers without respiratory equipment commonly toiled in places filled with airborne asbestos. Spouses and children were also subjected to asbestos exposure if job sites didn't offer showers, because employees inadvertently transported asbestos particles to their homes in their clothes and hair.

Since health conditions like mesothelioma don't appear until many years after a person first is exposed to asbestos, those who had jobs at contaminated sites, as well as their spouses and children, are advised to talk about their history of asbestos contact with their medical care providers regardless of how long ago they worked there. When caught early, treatments such as mesothelioma chemotherapy are available from doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.



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.

Missoulian Special Section. “Montana Power Co. Generations of Power.”

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