Fresno, California—Police department employees in the California city of Fresno now have reason to be concerned about mesothelioma, the deadly cancer which can be directly linked to asbestos exposure in 90 percent of cases.
Construction work has been ongoing at the department’s communication center since September 2008, but it was recently revealed that materials containing asbestos had been disturbed during the installation of new fire-suppression equipment in the center.
Asbestos is a mineral which can be incorporated into construction materials such as wallboard, concrete, fabrics and plastics in order to increase their strength and durability and to make them fireproof. When the asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are intact, they generally are thought to pose no threat. If they become disturbed, however, as they naturally would be through construction or renovation, the asbestos becomes “friable,” or easily damaged. When this happens, the fibers in the asbestos can break down, releasing microscopic, toxic particulate into the surrounding air.
These fibers can be inhaled or ingested, and then become lodged in the mesothelium – a membrane surrounding and protecting the lungs and other organs. This is the beginning of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer which accounts for approximately 3 percent of all United States cancer diagnoses.
Fresno Police Department officials say that they were aware of the presence of asbestos, but that it had been sealed off and was therefore safely contained prior to the disturbance caused by construction workers. Work at the site has been halted, and employees are working offsite until the situation can be remedied. All employees have been advised to seek medical attention immediately, even though the symptoms of mesothelioma usually do not manifest themselves for years or even decades after the individual’s first exposure to asbestos.
Federal laws dictate that only asbestos abatement contractors with special training and protective gear can remove the toxic material. The Fresno Police Department has ordered an environmental inspection of the communications center site to determine the extent of asbestos contamination.