Formally known as the Robert W. Scherer Power Plant, this facility located in Juliette, Georgia is a coal-fired power plant with four units having a combined capacity of over 3.5 gigawatts. Coming online in 1982, it is the fifth largest power generation facility in the nation.
The plant is operated by Georgia Power; ownership is shared by Gulf Power, Florida Power & Light, Jacksonville (Florida) Electric Association, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the City of Dalton.
Environmentally, the Scherer Plant dies not rank well. It is fueled by coal which is shipped halfway across the country from Wyoming's Powder River region and is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the U.S. (ranking 20th worldwide).
Although coal fired plants are notorious for putting out tremendous amounts of pollution, one toxic hazard is not generally discussed; that is asbestos.
Power plants constructed built prior to the 1980s usually contained large amounts of asbestos insulation at some point. The reason is that asbestos offers excellent resistance to heat and flame as well as electrical current. Asbestos-containing materials have indeed saved thousands of lives and prevented massive amounts of property loss over the past century; however, those who contracted asbestos diseases suffered disproportionately.
Asbestos illness was clearly shown to be a serious hazard for power plant employees in a 2003 study carried out by Puerto Rican researchers. The research team examined chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers; once tobacco use was factored out of the equation, indications of asbestos disease were noted in over 13% of the images.
For most of the century, generators, boilers and turbine combustion engines as well as thermal control devices contained large amounts of asbestos insulation. Prior to 1977, knowledge of the health hazards of asbestos were kept secret by the corporations that manufactured asbestos products. In 1977 however, evidence came to light proving that the entire industry had engaged in a massive conspiracy of suppression going back to the 1930s.
EPA and OSHA have since issued strong regulations to protect workers and govern the general handling of asbestos. However, asbestos disease symptoms take decades to becomes apparent. By then, the disease has usually advanced into its final stages.
New diagnostic methods have recently been developed that enable pathologists to detect the signs of asbestos disease at their earliest stages when mesothelioma prognosis is most encouraging. Those who have ever been employed at a power generation facility should tell their primary care doctors and get regular checkups whenever possible.
Because of its ability to block fire, asbestos (which occurs in forms such as chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite) was commonly used within almost all job sites in every state of the US. It is ironic that reducing the risk of injury was usually one of the primary reasons behind utilizing asbestos in worksites because the result was actually to put employees in danger of serious illness or death due to exposure to asbestos. The reason large numbers of people have become ill from health conditions such as pleural plaques and cancer is that when humans inhale particles of asbestos, the mineral embeds itself into the lungs; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage tissues. Also, mesothelioma, the fast-growing and mostly untreatable cancer of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity, is linked with mild to moderate asbestos exposure.
Those who work around asbestos today are usually protected from inhalation because of the numerous laws regulating its utilization, inclusion in products and disposal. However, in the past, laborers without proper safety gear commonly toiled in places thick with asbestos dust. Family members were also subjected to asbestos exposure if job sites did not offer showers, as employees took asbestos dust home in their clothes and hair.
Because conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma disease often do not manifest until a very long time after asbestos exposure first occurs, people who had jobs at asbestos-contaminated sites, as well as their partners and children, are advised to discuss their history of asbestos contact with their physicians regardless of how long ago 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 Association Annual Meeting, 2007.
Energy Information Administration. “100 Largest Electric Plants.”