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ULM unveils asbestos analysis lab

Published June 04, 2015

John Herrock of the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Toxicology Department cut the ribbon on ULM’s newest multi-purpose facility—the Toxicology Asbestos Analysis Laboratory. The lab will serve as a teaching facility, a research lab, and a community resource.

Equipment needed to run the lab was purchased with a donation from local businessman Dean Blackett, a ULM donor and supporter of both the fishing and water ski teams.


“I realized that Mr. Blackett and the ULM administration had confidence in us to get this done the right way, and that was important to me,” said Dr. Kevin Baer, head of ULM toxicology. “Through a generous donation from Mr. Blackett, we were able to purchase a state-of-the-art polarized light microscope, supplies, equipment, and cover costs for training. I appreciate Mr. Blackett’s commitment to environmental education.”

The lab, located in Sugar Hall, is designed specifically for testing samples to evaluate workplace exposures, and for identifying microorganisms commonly detected in air, fluids, and bulk samples during indoor air quality studies.

The lab is staffed with three ULM toxicology faculty. Toxicology instructors John Herrock and Shannon Banks, will join Baer in the lab. Baer will serve as the quality assurance officer and Herrock will serve as lab director.

Toxicology faculty have experience in industrial hygiene and occupational health and safety, air monitoring, environmental pollution, and expertise in a wide range of toxicological issues.

“We hope that this is just the beginning for the lab. We are looking toward adding mold analysis using much of the same equipment. We’d like to think this is just the first step in building this lab,” said Herrock.

According to Herrock, the lab will provide local and regional industry, environmental consulting companies, construction/demolition/remodeling companies, and homeowners with a local option for analyzing building materials.

Dr. Eric Pani, vice president for Academic Affairs, expanded on three of the most important uses for the new lab.


“This lab will contribute to all three aspects of the university,” he said. "First, it’s available for our students to use during their coursework—there’s nothing like having hands-on experience to contribute to our students’ educational needs. 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.”

Baer hopes to educate his students and the community about asbestos and its properties.

“Asbestos is the trade name for a group of six naturally occurring minerals that have very unique set of physical properties,” he said. “It is fire proof, acid resistant, withstands friction and pressure, has good thermal and electrical insulating properties, and has high tinsel strength.”

As a known human carcinogen, asbestos detection is important, but Baer also teaches caution.

“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’.”

The faculty hope to build a rapport with the construction community and local homeowners to be able to provide a possible life-saving service, and to give students an additional research and laboratory experience.

“We felt like this was a step toward getting air quality, soil, and water testing on student resumes to carry them toward a more advanced career path,” said Blackett.

The laboratory has gained American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) proficiency in bulk asbestos analysis by polarized light microscopy (EPA Method 600). The faculty are now seeking proficiency in mold analysis.

ULM currently offers the only undergraduate toxicology program in the southeastern United States.

For more information about the lab, or to submit samples, call 318-342-1859 or 318-342-1698.