Potsdam, NY—After a village employee contracted a rare form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure, the Potsdam civic center has been retested for the airborne toxin and found to be safe.
Sharon M. LaDuke died last May, after having worked as a senior clerk for the village for 34 years, of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer which attacks the outer lining of the lungs, stomach and heart. Its only known cause is exposure to asbestos.
An anonymous complaint was filed with the state Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) Bureau after LaDuke’s death, alleging that “employees have long suspected a problem.”
The village had last conducted asbestos testing and abatement in 1999 and 2000 when it repaired and replaced its boiler. This time around, testing was conducted not only in the boiler room but also in the code enforcement office, registrar’s office and courtroom.
Margot Leonhardt, a senior industrial hygienist with PESH, conducted the polarizing light microscopy test, which found significantly lower levels of fibers in air samples than the legal exposure limit of asbestos contamination, which stands at 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter.
“It’s so low they don’t consider it to be a problem even if all those fibers were found to be 100 percent asbestos,” said village Administrator Michael D. Weil.
The village also contracted with a local company, Atlantic Testing Laboratories, to conduct air monitoring tests throughout the civic center. The results of those tests showed a “non-detection” level of asbestos, which means that no airborne fibers were discovered.
Asbestos is a lightweight, extremely strong and fireproof mineral which has been widely used for insulation and other industrial purposes. When it remains in place and intact, it is generally considered safe. Only when asbestos material becomes “friable” — meaning that it is fragile enough to be easily disturbed, in which case it could release its microscopic fibers into the air – does it become a real health hazard.
Asbestos is associated not only with mesothelioma but also with lung cancer, pleural disease and asbestosis – a non-cancerous disease of the lungs.
The village of Potsdam will conduct training sessions about asbestos awareness for its employees later this month. Additionally, state officials will tour the civic center.