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Asbestos at the Astoria Powerhouse: Occupational Health Risks

Located on the banks of the East River, in New York, The Astoria Powerhouse is a power plant responsible for supplying half of the city´s energy requirements. Originally owned by a corporation called Consolidated Edison, the Powerhouse is now operated by  the Power Authority of New York, NRG, and Reliant Resources, each operating one of the three section the powerhouse has been divided into, since it changed hands in 1999. At the time, the sale was a result of New York city´s deregulation of the electricity wholesale market.

Serving more than three million New Yorkers, the plant utilizes kerosene and natural gas, as well as oil, to sustain its energy production processes. Its energy output consists of natural gas, steam, and, of course, electrical power..

 Life risk for workers: Asbestos exposure

Just like any other large power plant, the Astoria Powerhouse needs extreme insulation, to cope with the levels of heat it must generate, during its energy transformation processes. Up until its lethal qualities were unveiled to the world in the seventies, the material of choice for this type of insulation was the infamous asbestos. Workers were thus exposed to breathing the deadly asbestos particles, which can cause cancer and severe respiratory diseases, while working on and around the miles and miles of piping, heaters, condensers, pumps, and other kinds of similar equipment requiring insulation.

Unfortunately, not only the people working in direct contact with these asbestos-insulated items were in danger. Asbestos particles are extremely volatile, and anyone even just passing through the premises might have been affected. In fact, maintenance and repair work, what with cutting, hammering, etc, liberates high amounts of dangerous asbestos fibers. Because the Astoria Power Plant underwent extreme repairs, and building of new sections was also common; the risks of asbestos inhalation grew dramatically. In fact, since asbestos adheres to clothing and foot soles, even workers` family members were dangerously exposed to the potentially lethal inhalation of asbestos fibers.

Ironically, asbestos was also used in the manufacturing of protective gear, further exposing workers to its dangerous fibers, putting them in close contact with their bodies, most dramatically in the case of protective masks, which would unknowingly ensure a more direct inhalation.

The grim results of Asbestos exposure

The connection between mesothelioma (an aggressive cancer), lung cancer, and a respiratory disease named asbestosis was exposed by the scientific community in the 1970s. At the time, thousands of cases surfaced, of people who had worked in asbestos-rich environments, and were suffering from all the above mentioned conditions.

The way asbestos affect health is the following: asbestos fibers are inhaled, later sticking to the lungs, to later develop cancer and asbestosis. Sadly, all of the diseases connected to asbestos involve a high death risk.

Brought on by asbestos exposure almost 100% of the times, mesothelioma is a type of cancer that forms in the lining of the lungs, in the majority of cases; but it can also develop in the heart and in the abdominal region.

Asbestosis is a condition exclusive to asbestos exposure; it cannot be developed any other way. The way it works is with the formation of scar tissue building in the lungs, following asbestos inhalation. This is later the cause of diminished breathing capacity and circulatory problems.

Although there are other ways of developing lung cancer, asbestos fibers can also cause it, especially in the case of smokers. It has been shown that a combination of asbestos exposure and smoking can raise the chances of contracting lung cancer by as much as 90%. Workers who continued to smoke due to their ignorance of this fact have been terribly affected by the industry´s failure to reveal the risks involved in asbestos exposure.

The reason it took so long to identify the causes of these asbestos-related conditions is that the damage caused by asbestos particles inside human organs is only apparent decades after the contamination occurs. In fact, people have been known to experience symptoms even as late as 50 years after exposure. These symptoms include shortness of breath, pain centered around the chest area, and a painful cough which may or may not contain blood.

If you were ever employed at the Astoria Powerhouse or any other similar plant, you have a high chance of having been dangerously exposed to asbestos. Even if you are not presenting any symptoms, as yet, you should consult your physician and get tested, in order to rule out the possibility of suffering from an asbestos-related disease, or prevent its development while it is still possible.
In America, 10,000 people die every year of an asbestos-related disease. Scientists predict that these numbers will keep rising over the next decade.

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