Albion will have 2 experts study health concerns at elementary school

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 February 2019 at 8:27 am

Nellie Brown speaks during last Thursday’s meeting at Albion.

ALBION – The school district will have two experts look closer at concerns raised by the Albion Teachers Association that there may be elevated rates of breast cancer among teachers and staff in the elementary school.

Nellie Brown, director of the Workplace Health and Safety Program for Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, spoke for more than an hour last Thursday, outlining numerous chemicals that can be potential causes of breast cancer or endocrine disrupters.

She also uses a protocol for assessing a building’s environment to look at potential factors, such as the ventilation systems, cleaning products, and chemicals used at science labs, art classes and woodshop. She also could do a chemical analysis of air contaminants, measuring particulates.

Brown also can teach the program to school buildings and grounds and maintenance staff, to make sure the district is using environmentally friendly cleaning products.

Brown said determining the causes of elevated breast cancer rates is challenging due to the complexity of the disease and many risk factors involved. It also takes a long time for breast tumors to develop, at least a decade after an exposure to a carcinogen.

The board on Monday agreed to hire Brown at a rate of $250 an hour. She estimated she could do an assessment of the building’s ventilation, cleaning products and some factors in a day. The training of staff would take additional time.

Brown, during her presentation on Thursday, highlighted numerous chemicals that can be potential causes of breast cancer or “endocrine disrupters.” She helped develop the database of chemicals known to cause cancer and worked for the Program on Breast cancer and Environmental Factors at Cornell from 1995 to 2009.

Margy Brown, the Board of Education president, said Nellie Brown “brings a wealth of knowledge” to the issue.

The district also wants to have James Bowers, an epidemiologist who studies diseases for the state Department of Health, do a study at the school. The Teachers Association said 22 people have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Bowers has done many studies on elevated cancer rates in communities including four at other schools this year.

To determine if there is a cancer cluster, Bowers on Thursday said he looks to see if the cancer is the same type of the disease, the age of people when they were diagnosed (are there unusual age groups such as 20 to 30 years old instead of ages 50 to 70?), how long have they worked there, where they live (many don’t live in the community where they work). He also wants to know how many people also worked in the building over five years, 10 years and longer, to determine the rates of cancer in the building.

“Twenty (diagnoses of cancer) in 10 years is a lot different than 20 in 30 years,” he said on Thursday.

The Board of Education said it welcomes the work from the two experts.

Margy Brown said the board wants to partner with the Teachers Association, which has requested the issue be studied.

“I’m hoping that the dialogue continues with us working together to learn what Ms. Brown and Mr. Bowers have to share with the district,” Margy Brown said.

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