The H. L. Culbreath Bayside Power Station is located in Tampa Bay, Florida, and was operational in May of 2003. It produces 1,800 megawatts of electricity. A gas fueled plant, the Culbreath Station’s goal is to decrease air and water pollution while still providing power to customers. The Culbreath Station uses natural gas for its generating purposes and boasts seven steam generators and two steam turbines.
However, before modernizations, Culbreath was known as the Gannon Power Plant and operated as a coal-fired plant. Tampa Electric, the plant’s owner, spent $1.5 billion over 10 years to reduce airborne pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, from many of its generating stations. The coal-powered generator at Gannon went offline in 2004, and the company was soon able to boast that it had lowered mercury emissions by 99% and CO2 emissions by 5.2 million tons.
Despite these environmentally-friendly changes, employees of the former Gannon plant and other power plants are at a heightened risk for developing asbestos-related diseases. Mined from ore deposits in mines all across the United States, asbestos reached the height of its popularity during both World Wars when it was used in materials for naval vessels. Products containing asbestos were also used in homes and other commercial buildings because the mineral was inexpensive and durable. Because of these reasons, and its fire and heat resistant qualities, asbestos was also used in many power plants in boiler rooms, as insulation, and as protective gear for the men and women who handled hot and caustic materials.
Asbestos consists of tiny fibers which generally remain intact when the asbestos material remains undisturbed. However, asbestos was often manipulated, sanded, hauled, cut, bent, and overheated. This resulted in the loosening of the fibers. The dust that asbestos gives is invisible to the naked eye and can only be detected using the proper equipment, so many power plant employees were unaware of the presence of the dust. Even worse, many did not understand the problem that asbestos fibers pose to long term health.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the lungs, abdomen, or heart that is known to correlate with contact or exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma symptoms are subtle, including coughing and wheezing, and are dormant for 20 to 50 years after asbestos fiber being to collect in the lining of organs. Unfortunately, many power plant employees were and still are unaware of the dangers of asbestos and the possibility of mesothelioma.