The Toxicology Asbestos Analysis Laboratory at the University of Louisiana in Monroe’s Toxicology Department recently opened. Toxicology instructor John Herrock cut the ribbon and will run the lab along with fellow faculty members Shannon Banks (quality assurance officer) and Dr. Kevin Baer (lab director.)
“Asbestos is the trade name for a group of six naturally occurring minerals that have a very unique set of physical properties,” said Baer. “It is fire proof, acid resistant, withstands friction and pressure, has good thermal and electrical properties, and high tinsel strength.”
The six types of asbestos are chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. Their physical properties are the reason asbestos was used for many years in a number of different commercial and industrial capacities. Roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceiling materials, cement compounds, textile products, and automotive parts were among the most popular uses.
The lab is designed for testing samples of these types of asbestos to evaluate workplace exposures, leaning on the faculty expertise in industrial hygiene and occupational health and safety, air monitoring, and environmental pollution.
Overall, it is to serve three purposes as a teaching facility, research lab, and community resource. “This lab will contribute to all three aspects of the university,” said the Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Eric Pani. “First, it’s available for our students to use during their coursework—there’s nothing like hands on experience to contribute to our students’ educational needs.”
A state-of-the art polarized light microscope, supplies, equipment, and costs for training were donated through a contribution by local businessman Dean Blackett in a commitment to environmental education.
“It also adds to the research component, which is helpful for both our students and our faculty. And third, is the service component, which helps us work with the community,” said Pani.
Education for both students and the community is important regarding asbestos and its dangers, as it’s a known human carcinogen. Prolonged exposure can lead to asbestos-related disease, including the fatal mesothelioma cancer.
“Improper removal of asbestos containing materials may result in an exposure to workers and contamination to the work area. It is known to cause the development of mesothelioma tumors, lung and other cancers, so ideally it is a good practice not to disturb early-1980s or older building materials if you are not certain that it is asbestos-free,” said Baer.
“We’d like to think this is just the beginning for the lab,” said Herrock. He hopes to help the local construction companies and homeowners as well as give students the research and lab experience that will carry them toward a more advanced career path.