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From the field - Air measurement in a mountain of asbestos

Statkraft is currently building a large hydroelectric power station in the vast Devoll Valley in Moglicë, Albania. SGS Search was commissioned by subcontractor GE Renewable Energy to carry out inspections and air measurements. The aim was to determine whether asbestos was present, and if so, what type – a project of gigantic proportions.

‘The Devoll Hydropower project concerns the construction of two hydroelectric power plants in Albania. In Banja, one has already been delivered and is operational. The central plant in Moglicë is still under construction,’ Marcel Reinen, project manager at SGS Search, tells us. ‘These hydroelectric power plants each have a capacity of 256 MW, and need to produce approximately 729 GWh of electricity on an annual basis. That’s the equivalent of the yearly energy consumption of over 200,000 Dutch households. This will increase Albanian electricity production by almost 17%. GE Renewable Energy is installing the turbines and generators in these hydroelectric power plants.’

Creating space in the mountain

GE is currently excavating (access) tunnels and creating space in the mountain. Explosives are among the tools being used for this. The walls are then covered in sprayed concrete. ‘Because asbestos occurs naturally in the soil there, GE wanted us to ascertain whether it was safe for their employees to work there,’ says Reinen.

Pure chrysotile

‘We installed pumps, and over a period of six hours, took air samples at various locations in the tunnel. The result was unequivocal: there was asbestos in the air. That’s not so surprising if you consider that large portions of the rock walls consist almost entirely of pure chrysotile. It was definitely unsafe for GE’s employees to work without protective equipment.’

Adjusted working method

With comprehensive instructions provided by SGS Search, GE is now carrying out measurements twice per week themselves. ‘The measurements are analysed in our laboratory in the SGS Multilab, Toulouse, using a TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope). Their measurements also confirm that there is still asbestos in the air. GE has adjusted their working method: employees may only enter the tunnels while wearing protective equipment.’