Asbesos in Cooling Towers

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A cooling tower, most commonly used to cool the water for air-conditioning, manufacturing and electric power generation, is a heat rejection device that sends the working fluid through a fill, or an air-water interface element made up of multiple vertical or horizontal surfaces, to cool the water and pull out the waste heat. This stream of saturated exhaust air, or plume, would rise up through the stack and discharge into the atmosphere. As the plume flowed out of the tower, the cooled liquid would then collect in a cold water basin below to be pumped back through the process to absorb more heat again and again.

Along with the release of the waste heat, droplets of water, otherwise called drift, are drawn up through the tower and discharged into the air. These water droplets, as well as the humidified air, contain the exact same impurities, both in compound and concentration, as the water within the unit which can pose a serious health risk. If the water within cooling tower were to become toxic, there is no way to guarantee that none of the pollutants would eventually be released into the environment.

As the fill material ages over time, it begins to deteriorate. This deterioration allows the components of the fill material to dissolve into the water that passes through it. If any of these components are hazardous, the water could become toxic and contaminate the waste heat which is discharged into atmosphere, putting neighboring communities at risk for health-related problems. In older cooling towers, one of the major components of this fill, through which the water would continually pass, is asbestos. Once the asbestos is dispersed into the water, it’s only a matter of time before its cancer causing fibers are let loose into the air. These fibers can easily be inhaled by anyone in the immediate and surrounding areas, increasing their overall risk of contracting mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer related to the exposure of asbestos, and other asbestos-related diseases.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has demanded that all cooling towers containing this asbestos fill be removed and/or replaced. When these structures are dismantled or destroyed, a certain amount of risk comes into play. No matter how strict of safety precautions are put into place, the demolition can still release a certain amount of dust, which contains asbestos, into the air, putting those individuals on the worksite and in the general vicinity at risk.