Located near downtown Denver, Colorado, the Zuni Station is one of the state's oldest power generation facilities, dating from 1900 when it was built as the LaCombe Power Plant. Today, its two units, which are primarily gas-fired (but able to use fuel oil when necessary) have a total generative output capacity of 107 megawatts. Currently owned and operated by Xcel Energy, the plant supplies not only electrical energy for its end-use customers, but steam as well for heating purposes.
Any type of power generation facility built prior to the 1980s has contained large amounts of asbestos insulation at some point. Asbestos offers excellent resistance to heat and flame as well as electrical current; generators, boilers and turbine combustion engines as well as thermal control devices were regularly insulated with asbestos. Industrial use of asbestos has saved thousands of lives while preventing massive property loss over the past century.
Before the 1980s, knowledge of the health hazards of asbestos were kept from the general public by the corporate conspiracy of silence that was exposed during litigation in 1977. The evidence that came to light proved that the entire asbestos products industry had in fact engaged in a massive cover-up that went back to the 1930s.
Industrial health and safety experts have long been concerned about the effects of asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos illness was demonstrated to be a serious hazard for power plant employees in a 2003 study by Puerto Rican researchers. The team examined chest x-rays from 1100 such workers and discovered indications of asbestos disease in over 130 of the images.
The asbestos hazard was extended to family members as well. Loose asbestos fibers became lodged in workers' hair and clothing, and was unknowingly brought into the home, exposing spouses and offspring who later developed asbestos cancer as a result.
Today, EPA and OSHA regulations protect workers and govern the general handling of asbestos. However, asbestos disease symptoms take decades to manifest; most of those who are diagnosed today suffered asbestos exposure long before such hazards were generally known.
New diagnostic methods have recently been developed and approved by the FDA. These tools now enable pathologists to detect the signs of asbestos disease at their earliest stages. Former power plant employees should discuss asbestos exposure with their primary care doctors and receive regular checkups whenever possible as early diagnosis can be the difference between a positive or grim mesothelioma prognosis.
This installation was one of many factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, throughout much of the 20th century, utilized asbestos because of its ability to insulate against heat. While asbestos' strength as an insulator certainly saved lives, the eventual consequences of its use were devastating, as far too many employees contracted serious illness and even died due to asbestos exposure. The reason for this is that asbestos fibers, when inhaled, can infiltrate respiratory passages, leading to serious illnesses including pleural plaques and cancer. The most serious of the asbestos-linked disorders is mesothelioma, which is a type of cancer that involves the cells lining the chest cavity; it is a disease that usually kills within two years of diagnosis.
Because research has shown the link between asbestos exposure and conditions such as asbestosis, present-day workers are protected by state and federal guidelines that prescribe how asbestos is handled. In earlier days, however, workers commonly were forced to operate in areas in which airborne asbestos was unfiltered; in many cases, the dangers posed by asbestos inhalation were not explained. Spouses and children were also subjected to asbestos exposure when companies didn't offer ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, because employees carried asbestos particles home in their clothes and hair.
People who were employed at this site in the past, as well as family members of such workers, are encouraged to find out about these health conditions and tell their family doctors about their history of asbestos exposure, because the signs of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma disease can be mistaken for those of other, less serious conditions.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.
Xcel Energy Corporate Website. “Zuni Station.”