Asbestos Probe Raises Fears

posted on:
November 11, 2006

author:
Staff

News of an asbestos investigation at the former Agway building in DeWitt has left workers, neighborhood residents and visitors worried about their health.

Workers hired to clear the building of cancer-causing material face the biggest health risks. But even those who walked, played or just lived near the building also may see future consequences, as could workers’ families and friends. "Workers are the ones who are clearly most at risk," said Dr. Michael Lax, medical director of the Central New York Occupational Health Clinical Center at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

"If I'm somebody who has just walked across that area a couple of times, I wouldn't worry about it. But if they are playing there all summer and they are getting months of potential exposure on a daily basis, that's something I would be more concerned about."

Federal prosecutors say a contractor allowed asbestos to seep down drains, contaminate trash bins and float freely outside the building where people walk and children play. Lab tests showed illegal asbestos levels on sidewalks surrounding the building, prosecutors said.

Everett Blatche, 44, of DeLong Avenue, was charged Tuesday with violating the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Blatche worked as a supervisor for Aapex Environmental Services. The company at 4682 Crossroads Park Drive, Clay, is owned by William Hickok, Bob Leathley and John Leathley, according to business records.

Several messages left there Friday were not returned. Asbestos is present in thousands of products, including roofing, insulation and tile."It's when airborne fibers are breathed in that people get sick. Depending on the frequency and depth of exposure, consequences can be deadly. The more asbestos a person breathes, the higher his risk for developing an asbestos-related disease, such as lung cancer or mesothelioma," Lax said.

Infrequent exposure also can prove fatal. Jack Quinlan, outreach coordinator for the Central New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health, said scientists have documented deaths resulting from one day of asbestos exposure. "Asbestos-related diseases can take as long as 50 or 60 years to develop," Lax said.

Half a dozen homes back up to the former Agway building's parking lot. A fence now surrounds the building, but several of its windows remain blown out and uncovered. "I used to walk my dog around there," said Greywolf Afraid Of Bear, 18, who lives at 305 Butternut Drive, next to the building. "Then, I saw the signs (warning about asbestos) and thought, 'Oh, maybe I shouldn't be walking there anymore." But I guess it doesn't really affect me. I'm way over here."

Quinlan and Lax said wind can blow asbestos a significant distance. Fibers also can travel on workers' clothing, shoes and equipment if precautions aren't taken. Workers "get in the car, and the car gets contaminated," Lax said. "They go home, and there's contamination. They run the risk of contaminating their families and anyone they come into contact with."

"A great many asbestos workers got to watch their wives and kids die first," Quinlan said. "There's no remedy for asbestos exposure, and people can do little to prevent the onset of disease," Lax said. Delen Goldberg can be reached at dgoldberg@syracuse.com or 470-2274.

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