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Nevada Health Officials: No Health Risk From Asbestos To Nevada Residents

Two Nevada health officials joined KNPR's State of Nevada to refute claims that they suppressed a scientific study that raised concerns about asbestos and a highway construction project near Boulder City, Nevada.
Asbestos is a fiber found in soils and rocks that can damage the lungs. It’s a known carcinogen.
color:#333333">Recently,  two UNLV geoscientists told KNPR that construction work on the Boulder City Bypass and Interstate 11 between Las Vegas and Phoenix will disturb soils that have elevated concentrations of asbestos.
Brenda Buck and Rodney Metcalf expressed concerns that the project will lead to greater concentrations of airborne asbestos, and that residents and construction workers will be exposed to it.
They also said that the state suppressed a study produced by a University of Hawaii epidemiologist who looked at the geography and found a pattern of mesothelioma--a rare form of cancer related to asbestos exposure.
Dr. Tracey Green, Nevada Chief Medical Officer, said firmly that there is no increased risk for the disease in southern Nevada.
She also pointed out that all the state agencies that looked at the project believe rules laid out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, are sufficient to protect workers and residents, during highway construction.
“The determination of the entire team is that usual precautions where ever there is naturally occurring asbestos would satisfy the risk for individuals,” Dr. Green said.
Dr. Ihsan Azzam the state's chief epidemiologist explained to KNPR's State of Nevada that mesothelioma is very rare, which means the sample size is too small to draw any real conclusions.
But when they did look at the rates, comparing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they found low rates in Nevada.
“There were absolutely no significant differences. As a matter of fact our state has lower mesothelioma rates than 32 other states in the nation,” Dr. Azzam said.
Azzam’s assertion runs counter to what Buck told KNPR. She said there are higher rates of the disease in young people in southern Nevada. Plus, she also explained that how the disease is distributed across the population indicates it is caused by the environment.  
Green and colleagues at UNLV reviewed Buck’s study but did not get the same outcome.
“We were not able to validate her information nor were able to replicate her information,” Green said.
As to the accusation that the state tried to suppress information by sending a cease and desist order to the University of Hawaii researcher working on the project, Green strongly disagreed. She noted the researcher broke state law when she shared the information with a third party before sending to the state.  
“We were responding to her behavior not to her information,” Green said.
Dr. Azzam applauds Buck and Metcalf’s efforts, and insists state health officials are not ignoring science.
“If there is a problem, we would be the first to flag it” Azzam said.
He believes there is no reason to panic or unnecessarily scare the public.
“I refuse to say that this is dangerous event,” Azzam said.


Dr. Tracey Green, Chief Medical Officer, State of Nevada

Dr. Ihsan Azzam, Chief Epidemiologist, State of Nevada
Copyright 2015 KNPR-FM. To see more, visit

Dr. Tracey Green, Chief Medical Officer, State of Nevada

Dr. Ihsan Azzam, Chief Epidemiologist, State of Nevada

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