Hudson River Powerhouse

The Hudson River Powerhouse, originally named the Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse, was built in 1904. The largest power plant in the world at the time of its completion, the Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse produced steam to keep the trains of New York City’s first subway system running. The prestigious architectural firm of McKim, Mead, & White designed the exterior of this block-sized power station.

In 1959, New York City sold the Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse to Consolidated Edison and its name was changed to the Hudson River Generating Station or Hudson River Powerhouse. Consolidated Edison utilized the steam power produced by this station for the climate control and sterilization of large buildings throughout New York City, such as the Empire State Building.

In spite of its architectural and historic value, Consolidated Edison has resisted multiple attempts to have this site declared a historical landmark, due to the fact that it is still in use today. Consolidated Edison believes that the process of land-marking and preserving this 107-year-old building would interfere with the Hudson River Powerhouse’s steam production and have a negative impact on customers. If this building were designated as a historical landmark, any future modification to its structure would be blocked. However, Consolidated Edison maintains that as long as the power plant is in active use, the ability to make emergency changes to its structure needs to be upheld.

The current attempt to preserve the Hudson River Powerhouse, driven by the community-based Hudson River Powerhouse Group, has led to the site being given calendar status by New York City’s Landmark Commission. Calendar status means that the designation of this powerhouse will be considered by the commission and ensures Consolidated Edison’s ability to make structural changes, as long as they are deemed necessary by the Landmark Commission.

Community members are concerned that any alteration to the Hudson River Powerhouse be handled carefully because a variety of materials used in the original construction of this power station may contain asbestos. Asbestos-containing building supplies were utilized to insulate and fireproof the ceilings, walls and floors of many power plants. Machinery and its parts such as pipes, cables, valves, pumps and turbines were also coated with asbestos. Many members of the local community believe that this power station will eventually become obsolete as a source of power and would like to see the building re-purposed for public use as a museum or events center.

One of the numerous health hazards linked to being in close contact with asbestos for an extended amount of time is mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer with a latency period of 20 to 50 years. Since the cancer goes so long without being detected, once a patient is diagnosed with mesothelioma, the cancer is already so advanced that  little to no conventional treatmeant will work  to combat the disease.