The construction crews had been working at the site since September 14, 2008 and recently discovered materials that possibly contained asbestos. Officials were aware that asbestos was present in the area, but it had been sealed off due to health and safety concerns. The sealed asbestos was disturbed enough to release hazardous fibers into the air. Exposure to the toxic mineral is linked to numerous illnesses including mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
Although the work has been halted, many dispatchers and other employees of the Fresno Police Department were unknowingly exposed to the mineral, and may have transported asbestos fibers to other areas of the communication center or off site on their clothing or skin while leaving the location.
Federal law requires the removal of asbestos to be handled or removed by licensed abatement contractors who are trained in handling hazardous materials. They must wear protective equipment such as masks and gloves to avoid any exposure. The materials are then removed in pieces as large as possible and placed in disposable bags.
Until the asbestos has been safely removed from the work site, Fresno department employees are working at an offsite location and officials have made sure to contact all of the employees to notify and advise them on the situation. They have also ordered a mandatory environmental inspection of the site to determine whether asbestos fibers were released into other parts of the facility. All employees have been told to seek medical attention immediately.
Exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to the development of malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that accounts for approximately 3 percent of cancer diagnoses in the United States. Many of the patients who develop mesothelioma contract the disease through occupational exposure to asbestos when airborne asbestos fibers were inhaled on the job or during military service.
Diagnosis of the disease does not typically occur until later stages of development, which may lead to a poor prognosis for many patients. Symptoms and warning signs of mesothelioma typically include shortness of breath, chest pain and weight loss, resembling symptoms of other less serious conditions.