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Smith Power Plant

Formally known as the Lansing Smith Power Plant, this coal-fired facility north of Panama City Florida has four units, the first of which came online in 1965. Additional units were added in 1967, 1971 and 2002. Gulf Power, which owns and operates the facility, reports a total generative capacity of 945 megawatts.

According to the EPA, Lansing Smith is one of the worst power generation facilities in the state in terms of environmental pollutants. In 2007, the plant released a total of 625 tons of toxic waste into the environment, which included lead, vanadium, magnesium, mercury and zinc as well as radium.

The Smith Power Plant was only one of several industries that during most of the twentieth century made extensive use of asbestos-containing materials both in the buildings that housed them and the machinery that made them run.

In fairness, most asbestos customers such as those who designed and build Lansing Smith were unaware of the dangers posed by asbestos; construction engineers only knew that such materials could prevent deaths from fire injuries as well as millions of dollars in property damage. The health hazards of asbestos were kept hidden from the public by a corporate conspiracy on the part of asbestos product manufacturers for over four decades before a 1977 court case forced it into the open – starting a flood of litigation over the next quarter-century.

Areas of power generation plants where asbestos materials were likely to be found include:

  • electrical cloth
  • fire doors
  • pipe and conduit lagging
  • work surfaces
  • turbines

Workers were not the only ones affected; asbestos fibers were often lodged in workers' hair and clothing and unknowingly brought into the home, exposing family members; such secondary exposure has been shown to cause asbestos disease among children and spouses of power plant employees.

Anyone who worked at the Smith Power Plant, particularly before 1980, should advise a physician and arrange for regular health monitoring. Asbestos cancer such as mesothelioma takes decades to show symptoms, by which time the disease is usually in its final stages. However, recent advances have resulted in new diagnostic tools that have enabled pathologists to detect the early “markers” of such cancer. Early detection means more effective treatments and much better outcomes. Nonetheless, mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that is known to recur; lifelong monitoring is usually necessary for the best possible mesothelioma prognosis.

In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, it was commonplace for many industrial facilities to be constructed with the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because it offered high resistance to transferring heat and electricity. It is ironic that saving lives was typically one of the main justifications behind using asbestos in places for the result was in fact to put laborers in danger of serious illness or death due to exposure to asbestos. The reason so many people have become ill from health conditions including asbestosis and lung cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos fibers, the mineral remains in respiratory passages; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage cells. Also, a history of contact with asbestos can lead to the almost always fatal form of cancer known as mesothelioma disease, which develops as a tumor of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Now, we understand the risks of being exposed to asbestos, and health and safety statutes protect people whose jobs put them in contact with this material. Even as late as the 1970s, however, laborers unprotected by masks or other safety equipment often toiled in areas filled with airborne asbestos. Moreover, employees took dust containing asbestos home with them on their clothes or in their hair when showers weren't provided at the job site; as a result, this carcinogen also put at risk offspring of those who worked near asbestos.

Those who worked here at any time in the past, as well as those who lived with them, are encouraged to find out about these health conditions and tell their family doctors about their history of contact with asbestos, because the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma are often mistaken for those of other, less serious conditions.

Sources

Sources

Bowker, Michael. Deadly Deception. (New York: Touchstone, 2003).

Gulf Power Corporate Website. “Plants.”
www.gulfpower.com/about/plants.asp

Scorecard.org. “Environmental Releases from Facilities.”
www.scorecard.org/env-releases/facility.tcl?tri_id=32409GLFPW4300H

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