The Wabash River Power Plant first came online in 1953. Currently, there are six coal-fired units, the last of which became operational in 1968. In addition to these, there is an experimental 260-megawatt facility that was financed in part by the U.S. Department of Energy for the development of coal gasification technology. This project is owned and operated by Duke Energy, and was one of the first of its kind in the U.S.
Asbestos use at older power generation facilities such Wabash River are also known for their asbestos hazard. While asbestos from power plants is not a particular danger to the general public, it subjects maintenance workers and engineers to a high degree of risk from mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.
Asbestos manufacturers were well aware of the hazards of their products, but engaged in a forty-year conspiracy to withhold this information from the public. The information was exposed in 1977 by the litigator in an asbestos case, however; before this time, representatives of corporations such as W.R. Grace and Johns-Manville claimed that they had no knowledge of these issues. In fact, they had known since the late 1930s.
Asbestos was likely to be found throughout the structures and in the moving machinery as well. Once these fibers were loose in the building environment, there were not only inhaled and ingested by workers, but were likely to become lodged in hair and clothing, where they were brought into the home – exposing family members.
The danger to power plant workers were highlighted in a 2003 study in Puerto Rico, in which the chest x-rays of 1100 such workers were analyzed. When tobacco use was factored out, over 130 of the images showed signs of asbestos disease. Today, industrial safety experts consider power generation facilities to be among the most dangerous for asbestos exposure.
Although the use of asbestos-containing materials was phased out beginning around 1980, anyone who worked at a power generating facility before the 1980s, or had a family member so employed, should discuss it with their doctor and get checked frequently. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, and by the time symptoms are apparent, it is usually too late to treat the disease. However, recent advances in biotechnology have made it possible for pathologists to detect the early “markers” of the disease; when diagnosed in its initial stages, asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma can usually be treated successfully. Mesothelioma chemotherapy is often available for patients and can be administered by doctors such as Dr. David Sugarbaker at Harvard University's Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
With its insulating properties, asbestos (which occurs in forms such as chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite) was often utilized throughout almost all industrial sites all over the US. While using asbestos was intended to reduce the risk of injury, it unfortunately ended up with the opposite effect: exposure to asbestos associated with work has resulted in serious illness for far too many people. The illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos include pleural plaques and cancer; the greatest chance of developing these conditions occurs when asbestos-containing materials become fragile, releasing strands into the environment where they are easy to inhale. Furthermore, a history of contact with asbestos is a known cause of the deadly cancer known as mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (pericardial mesothelioma).
People who work with asbestos in present times are usually safe from contact because of the many rules controlling its utilization, inclusion in products and demolition. Those who labored around asbestos-containing materials before such laws were passed, on the other hand, generally spent their days in sites where asbestos microfibers were prevalent, and they as a rule received little or no training about safe ways to handle the mineral. If the employer didn't offer facilities to wash off asbestos fibers, employees carried asbestos to their homes on their clothes or in their hair, which exposed family members to this dangerous substance.
Since asbestos-related illnesses such as lung cancer and mesothelioma don't manifest until 20 years or more after a person first is exposed to asbestos, men and women who had jobs at exposed sites, as well as their family members, should discuss their history of asbestos contact with their medical care providers regardless of how long ago they worked there.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.
Duke Energy Corporate Website. “Wabash River Station.”