The coal-fired electric facility G.G. Allen Steam Station in South Point Township, North Carolina, has had a bad reputation for many reasons, mostly due to the high number of deaths attributed to air pollutants, which may have included asbestos at one time. In a 2001 study by the Clean Air Task Force, the steam station was found to have caused approximately 60 deaths a year by releasing hazardous particles into the air.
In 2009, the electrical generating plant also made it onto the list of Coal Combustion Residue Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings put together by the Environmental Protection Agency. This lists sites most likely to cause loss of human life if dam failure were to occur. It was also 65th on list of most polluting coal power plants in the nation.
The G.G. Allen Steam Station opened in 1957 with two units operation. By 1961, the facility had grown to include five units. Currently, the station is making an effort to reduce emissions with a recently built scrubber system, but lawsuits continue to mount. Like most power companies, the G.G. Allen Steam Station started off on the wrong foot, likely using asbestos to insulate pipes, gaskets, boilers and other plant machinery.
Asbestos fibers are much too small to be seen with the naked eye. When they are inhaled, they stay in the lungs and cause illnesses decades later. These illnesses include asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Employees at power plants like the G.G. Allen Steam Station were unaware of the dangers of asbestos in the early days, and standard safety practices were not used by most power plants until decades later. These employees and even the families of employees were exposed to the hazardous material, sometimes daily.
Asbestos-related illnesses typically affect older people, simply due to the time asbestos was being used and the fact the illnesses take so long to develop. Unfortunately, once the former employees of power plants like G.G. Allen Steam Station begin to notice signs of asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer, it is generally too late to expect a good outcome, even with extensive medical treatment. The U.S. government eventually banned the use of asbestos. Power plants either removed asbestos or coated asbestos-laden areas with resin to prevent the fibers from escaping into the air. However, the damage to public health had already been done.