The Ray D. Nixon Power Plant is a publicly-owned coal-fired power station that is owned and operated by the City of Colorado Springs. It has a generative capacity of 207 megawatts. The facility first came online in 1980.
Asbestos was first established as a health hazard in the late 1930s; however, this information did not become available to the general public until 1977, when in the course of asbestos litigation, discovery of papers in the corporate offices of asbestos-product manufacturer Raysbestos, Inc. revealed a four-decade conspiracy in the asbestos industry to suppress information about the health hazards of asbestos.
All power plants built prior to that time, whether fired by fossil fuels, nuclear power or hydro were constructed using extensive amounts of asbestos insulation. Asbestos is resistant to heat and flame as well as electrical current. Industrial health and safety experts have long known of the hazards of asbestos; this was confirmed by a Puerto Rican study in 2003, which revealed that 130 out of 1100 chest x-rays from such workers showed indications of asbestos disease.
Generators, boilers and turbine combustion engines as well as thermal control devices have all been insulated with asbestos-containing materials because of their remarkably resistance to electrical current as well as their flame-retardant properties.
Since 1977, EPA and OSHA have issued strict regulations governing worker safety and other asbestos issues. Additionally, the Nixon facility is a fairly new one; it is not known if asbestos exposure is as much of an issue among plant employees as it would had they been employed at an older facility.
Asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma have very long latency periods; symptoms often are not apparent until such diseases have reached advanced stages. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical for the best possible mesothelioma prognosis.
However, new diagnostic methods have been developed and approved by the FDA, which enable pathologists to detect early signs of asbestos disease. Former power plant workers should discuss asbestos exposure with their primary care physicians and receive regular checkups if possible.
In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, it was typical for plants, mills, and factories to use asbestos because it provided high resistance to heat and electricity. Although the use of asbestos was usually intended to reduce the risk of injury, it sadly ended up with the opposite effect: asbestos exposure at the workplace has resulted in illness and death for far too many employees. The reason so many workers have died from health conditions such as asbestosis and cancer of the lungs is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos fibers, the mineral embeds itself into respiratory passages; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage cells. Also, a history of contact with asbestos can lead to the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Now, we are aware of the risks of asbestos exposure, and responsible employers protect employees whose jobs put them in contact with this potentially lethal mineral. Those who labored near asbestos prior to the passage of such laws, however, generally spent their days in sites where asbestos fibers were prevalent, and they typically were provided with very little training concerning how to work safely with the mineral. Spouses were also subjected to asbestos exposure if employers failed to offer showers, as employees inadvertently transported asbestos particles to their homes on their skin or in their hair.
Since conditions such as mesothelioma disease often don't manifest until decades after asbestos exposure first occurs, those who had jobs at contaminated sites, as well as their partners and children, are encouraged to discuss their history of asbestos contact with their medical care providers no matter how far back they worked there.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
Sourcewatch. “Ray Nixon Power Plant.”