Arthur Kill Generating Station

The Arthur Kill Powerhouse on Staten Island was founded in 1948, the least populated of New York’s boroughs both then and now. The powerhouse was built to offer this small population electricity. Until 1952, Arthur Kill was operated by Staten Island Edison. Then, the powerhouse merged with Consolidated Edison, or Con-Ed. As the population grew over the years, Arthur Kill expanded its facility to meet the increased need for power. In both 1959 and 1969 an additional unit was added. The powerhouse, in its beginning, generated 25 megawatts of power. By the end of the century, it generated 841 megawatts, while today, it generates 865 megawatts by using natural gas.

The New York Public Service Commission forced Con-Ed to sell a few of its holdings in 1999, since it had developed a power supply monopoly. NRG Energy, Inc. bought the Arthur Kill Powerhouse and another huge plant of Con-Ed’s, Astoria Powerhouse, for over $500 million. NRG proposed a re-powering of Arthur Kill to reduce emissions through a clean combined cycle generation using natural gas.

Powerhouses are very concerned with controlling heat and fire. To reduce hazards, nearly all power plants built prior to the 1980s utilized asbestos products in their construction because asbestos resists fire and heat. Found primarily in insulation, asbestos also became a staple in power plants to increase worker safety. In addition to resisting heat and fire, asbestos also resists electricity, making it valuable in a number of uses in powerhouses.

The generators, turbines, electrical cable and hot water pipes in power plants all required insulation and asbestos was a good, cheap insulator. Therefore, cables, pipes, seal pumps, and gaskets usually were lined with it. Turbines helped produce power, and they were often lined with asbestos as well. Boilers generated steam, and they, too, were lined with the hazardous material. Workers were exposed to asbestos not only in these construction materials, but also through their protective clothing, which commonly was woven with asbestos fibers. Asbestos exposure is known to cause many serious illnesses, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

Though asbestos use has been greatly lowered since the 1980s, it has not been entirely banned in the U.S. and can still be found in older buildings. To help maintain a positive public image, most companies removed asbestos from their products and facilities once the dangers of it were found. Con-Edison was among these, and in 1989, they developed a program to remove asbestos from New York City’s steam manholes. Nevertheless, several employees of Con-Ed powerhouse have developed mesothelioma, including one boilermaker who was awarded $47 million in compensation.