Tipton Power Plant

Tipton Power Plant in Cedar County, Iowa, is one of a number of coal burning facilities in the region that produces electricity. The City of Tipton Electrical Utility owns and operates the plant, which produces about 20 megawatts of power, only about half of which is used in Tipton itself. The city utility company is one of the only remaining autonomous power companies remaining in the entire region, its origins dating back to the 1880s.

A rebuild for the distribution system was completed in 1997, and the city of Tipton also owns a smaller generating facility in the town of Muscatine, Iowa. The Tipton generating site is typical of coal-fired power stations; it employs large coal furnaces to heat boilers and turn water into steam. The steam turns large turbines that are attached to a drive shaft. The shafts operate electromagnetic generators and the cooling steam is returned to the boiler to be used again.

Such facilities become very hot around the interior, and protection for workers means insulating the areas around the coal furnaces, covering hot steam pipes and supplying employees with protective clothing. Asbestos was the most commonly used insulating material in power plants, especially ones completed in the early or mid-twentieth century. Asbestos is a natural compound, mined in various locations around the globe and mixed with other ingredients to make tiles, wallboards, coverings for wiring and electrical conduit, as well as gloves, masks and vests for workers in steam plants.

In the 1980s the medical profession’s definitive connection between asbestos fibers and several benign and malignant health disorders was publicized. It was determined that the inhalation of asbestos fibers can result in asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, for which there is no cure.

The Tipton Power Plant was positively identified by authorities in Iowa as a facility where asbestos exposure was commonplace. Newer facilities in the U.S. and elsewhere either do not use asbestos or employ new methods of keeping it contained within other materials, lessoning the exposure to plant workers. It is the older facilities, such as Tipton Power Plant, that have a long history of asbestos use. Workers who were employed there as many as 50 years ago may only today show symptoms of mesothelioma, the most serious condition related to asbestos, as this material can remain dormant inside the body for decades.