The Sithe Mystic Station was built by Raytheon and taken over by Exelon Power in 2002. The plant has two gas-fired units that have a combined generative capacity of 1.6 gigawatts.
The current plant was constructed on the site of an earlier coal-fired one which left behind a great deal of toxic material in the water and soil. The Exelon Corporation spent in excess of $30 million on the cleanup, which included the removal of asbestos.
Asbestos is not only a flame retardant; the “blue” and “brown” varieties are also highly resistant to electricity. Prior to the early 1980s, asbestos-containing materials were used extensively throughout the construction of power generation plants of all types, from hydroelectric to nuclear. These asbestos varieties are also among the most toxic, and are know causes of the cancer known as mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, asbestos was found in virtually everything from flame-retardant paint to the very machinery used to generate power. In the latter context, it is especially hazardous, as the moving parts could eject millions of fibers into the building environment. This was dangerous not only for workers, but their family members as well – who suffered secondary exposure when such fibers that had settled in workers' hair and clothing was brought into the home.
A medical research study in Puerto Rico examined the chest x-rays of 1100 power plant workers; over 130 of them showed signs of asbestos disease. Power plants such as the Sithe facility are generally considered to be among the most hazardous industrial settings when it comes to asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma has a lengthy latency period; symptoms may take as long as sixty years to manifest, and those symptoms in their early stages are often mistaken for those of other respiratory diseases. This makes it difficult to diagnose.
Former employees of Sithe and their families should advise their family doctors about any possible asbestos exposure and get ongoing health monitoring if possible, since early detection and treatment is key to long-term survival. Some treatments such as mesothelioma chemotherapy are available and can be provided by doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.
This facility was one of a multitude of factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, throughout much of the 20th century, used the naturally occurring mineral known as asbestos for its ability to insulate against heat. It is ironic that protecting lives was typically one of the main reasons for utilizing asbestos in companies because the outcome was in fact to put laborers in danger of serious illness or death due to asbestos exposure. The reason for this is that asbestos strands, when inhaled or ingested, embed themselves into the lungs, leading to serious illnesses such as asbestosis and lung cancer. The most serious of the asbestos-linked diseases is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the lining of the abdominal cavity; it is almost always a death sentence for those who contract it.
Those who work around asbestos in present times are generally safe from contact due to the numerous laws controlling its utilization, inclusion in products and demolition. People who worked around job sites containing asbestos prior to the implementation of such laws, however, often spent their work days in spaces where asbestos was prevalent, and they typically were offered very little information regarding how to minimize risks when dealing with the mineral. In addition, employees brought asbestos particles home on their work clothes when change rooms weren't provided at the job site; the consequence of this was that the carcinogen also endangered offspring of those who worked with asbestos.
Diseases such as mesothelioma can take many years to appear, and the symptoms of these disorders can be difficult to distinguish from those of less serious conditions, so those who worked at these sites in the past, as well as those who lived with them, should talk with their physicians about their history of exposure to asbestos.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.
EnergyVortex.com. “New Exelon Power Plant Providing Clean Energy to Boston Area.”