Presque Isle Power Plant

Presque Isle Power Plant has been supplying power to homes and businesses in the United States since 1955. Built on Lake Superior near the town of Marquette, Michigan, this plant currently has five operational units which generate 90 percent of the Upper Peninsula’s power and 12 percent of the entire state’s electricity. In total, the five units are capable of generating 431 MW of power.  A bulk of the plant’s power is generated for the Empire and Tilden iron ore mines in Marquette.

This coal-fired plant burns around 1.6 million tons of the substance every year.  Though the burning of coal produces ash, around 99.5% of this fly ash is removed from the plant’s exhaust by electrostatic precipitators or fabric filters called baghouses.  The generators are cooled with water from Lake Superior, at most 231,000 gallons every minute, and this water is returned to the lake after use.  In 2006, the plant implemented TOXECON technology to help filter dangerous mercury vapors from the flue gas, reducing mercury levels by up to 90%.

Like most power plants, Presque Isle operates 24 hours a day. These are often times dangerous jobs because electricity is involved as well as nuclear materials. Before modern safety standards became commonplace, power plants like Presque Isle also put employees in danger by using asbestos. Many decades ago, asbestos was used to line equipment and plant machinery at nuclear plants because it was able to cool hot metal and helped contain fires that occasionally break out at power plants.

Asbestos fibers can get into the lungs and can lead to lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Unfortunately, some power plants still have asbestos in place, and despite federal warnings about the dangers of asbestos, have not removed all the asbestos from their facilities. Due to the nuclear material used to generate power, these facilities cannot simply shut down and take machines apart to remove the dangerous fibers. However, some plants have encapsulated the asbestos by covering it with a layer of resin. Common asbestos-laden areas and machinery include boilers, pipes, gaskets, values and seal pumps. But even the walls, ceilings and floors commonly contain asbestos.

The encapsulation process came too late for many power plant employees, who have since died or been diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. Even employees who did not work directly with the hazardous material breathed in the fibers. Some even carried the fibers home on their clothes, skin and hair and their family members became ill.