Conemaugh Generating Station

The Conemaugh Generating Station is a coal-burning power plant located in western Pennsylvania. Situated on the banks of the Conemaugh River in rural Indiana County, it lies across the river from the small town of New Florence and is approximately 13 miles from the city of Johnstown. Two coal-fired, steam-electric generation units, four diesel-fired combustion turbine generators, and four cooling towers make up the plant. Much of the coal used in its operation is deep-mined and strip-mined locally. Coal is burned to produce steam, which then runs the 14-story tall turbines. The steam is then cooled in the cooling towers by recirculating water, a system designed to reduce the amount of water that the plant diverts from the nearby river for which it is named. Employing approximately 200 people, the Conemaugh Generating Station is one of the largest employers in the area.

The plant began operating in 1970, when the first turbine came online. The second became operational in 1971. Electrostatic precipitators and low-nitrogen oxide burners were the original technologies employed to control emissions. However, in the mid-1990s, the generating station installed a new emissions control system to comply with stricter state air quality regulations. Today, the steam is scrubbed by a wet limestone flue gas desulfurization system that removes sulfur dioxide and heavy metals before the vapor is released into the air.

The power station is operated by GenOn Northeast Management Company, which was formerly known as Reliant Energy. The multi-national energy company based in Houston, Texas, runs the station on behalf of its owners, a consortium of power companies in the Mid-Atlantic region, including PSEG Fossil. A judge for the U.S. District Court recently ruled that the Conemaugh Generating Station has committed over 8,500 environmental violations of the Clean Water act since 2005. An additional number of unsafe materials might have also seen usage in this plant, including asbestos.

Asbestos products were used to build power plants in the United States until the 1970s. The generators, turbines and boilers of the power plant were likely insulated with asbestos because of the mineral’s capacity to protect against extreme temperatures. Other components of the plant were likely insulated with asbestos-containing products. Before the material’s health risks were known, workers may have even worn asbestos suits for protection. It is highly probable that workers who originally built the plant and made repairs during shutdowns, as well as the everyday staff and crew, were exposed to asbestos in dangerous quantities.