On June 20, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, cited Concord Steam Corp. of Concord, New Hampshire for 73 alleged violations of OSHA's safety standards.
The charges stem from an injury at the Concord Steam Plant, a wood- and biomass-fired facility which provides downtown Concord with piped steam heat through eight miles of insulated piping to state government buildings and two local hospitals. The plant also produces electricity for sale to regional utilities.
The worker in question was seriously burned in a Jan. 22 fire that happened when pressurized oil leaked from a boiler and caught fire. The company has been assessed $104,200 in proposed fines for willful, serious, and other-than-serious lapses in plant safety, among them the presence of asbestos-containing (and potentially asbestos-containing) debris.
The asbestos alone is a significant health hazard, raising the specter of asbestosis, certain lung and digestive system tumors, and mesothelioma, a generally lethal form of cancer of the mesothelial linings of the chest and abdomen - all of them resulting primarily from asbestos exposure. The worst, however, is mesothelioma, which typically lies dormant for about three generations before producing symptoms of such seriousness a diagnosis is always positive, and highly negative in terms of survival rates.
According to reports, the OSHA inspection triggered by worker injury resulted in finding boiler doors that were cracked, bulging and unable to be closed, raising the risk of fire and explosion if combustible materials in the plant, like piles of wood dust, ignited, as happened during the inspection.
OSHA also cited the plant for other chemical, mechanical, electrical, and combustion hazards which could lead not only to asbestos-related diseases, but to cuts, burns, falls, electrocution, suffocation, and crushing injuries of the limbs and torso. The citations include (safety) exits that were blocked or unmarked; failure to survey for asbestos, advise workers of its presence, clean it up or train workers in safe asbestos practices; an untrained and unequipped fire management team; the lack of alarms or an emergency action plan; untested and uninspected fire extinguishers; inadequacy of the plant's confined space, respirator and lockout/tagout programs (which enable workers to disable and mark inoperable or dangerous systems); inexperienced fork lift operators; unguarded machinery; and a failure to mark hazardous chemicals and maintain a chemical hazard safety protocol.
The citations include one willful violation with a fine of $22,000 based on asbestos accumulations, 65 serious citations with a fine of $79,800, and seven less-than-serious citations with $2,400 in fines for substandard injury and illness recording and reporting.
Concord Steam Corp. has until August 3 to either comply or contest. Concord Steam Vice President Mark Salzman had no comment except to say the company is reviewing the citations. A meeting with OSHA representatives is scheduled for August 10.
Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA's area director in Concord, notes that the defects must be "fully and effectively corrected".
One other major concern is the steam pipes under the city of Concord, which are likely wrapped with asbestos and in serious need of replacement or repair, according to one observer. Should they explode, the asbestos hazard inside the plant would extend to the streets of Concord, exacerbated by the possibility that scalding steam might cause serious injury to passersby.
Given that Concord steam leases the building from the state, the liability in that instance could become widespread.