University of Iowa Power Plant

Beginning operation in November 1927, the University of Iowa Power Plant started out housing only four 650-horsepower boilers. The main purpose of the University of Iowa Power Plant is to convert fuel energy into thermal and electric energy for use on the University of Iowa campus and The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Included in this new plant was the Hydro-Electric Power Laboratory, which was the largest water turbine of any school laboratory in the United States at the time.

When it first began operation in 1927, the University of Iowa Power Plant burned approximately thirty thousand tons of coal every year just to maintain power to the services of the University. Since then, the plant’s coal consumption has increased dramatically. Currently, the University of Iowa Power Plant burns over one hundred thousand tons of coal every year.

Power plants have been providing power to Iowa businesses and homes for more than a century. Although these power plants are completely necessary to continue much of the University of Iowa’s operations, they can be extremely dangerous places to work. Because these plants are generating electricity, the possibility of fire is a constant risk and potential hazard. To lessen the potential of accidents in the workplace involving fire and extreme temperatures, most equipment and machinery used by power plant contain asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral whose chief use is as a flame and electricity retardant.

The unfortunate side effect of asbestos is that it has been proven to cause a multitude of illnesses in people that come in contact with the highly toxic substance. Lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma have all been scientifically linked as illnesses that are caused by exposure to asbestos. Because the symptoms of asbestos related illnesses can take up to 50 years to develop, power plant workers are still being diagnosed with debilitating illnesses more than 30 years after most plants removed their asbestos.

The University of Iowa Power Plant employed several turbine generators, through which high temperature steam was passed in the process of creating electricity. Because of the extremely high temperatures involved in this process, asbestos was common in most equipment related to this process. Although the University of Iowa has since removed or encapsulated all of the asbestos in its plant, many workers were still put at risk over the course of many years working with the equipment.