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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Testing Of Chemicals Found In State Offices Reveals Known, Probable Carcinogens

On Tuesday, state employees learned more about the contamination found in their St. Johnsbury offices.

Late last week, three chemicals were found in the foundation of the Agency of Human Services buildings, forcing 78 state employees to vacate.

Further testing found that TCE, a known carcinogen; PCE, a probable carcinogen; and chloroform have been released into the air at unhealthy levels.

Mark Levine, the commissioner of health, told the audience that some types of cancer — including liver and kidney cancer, and leukemia — as well as fetal developmental issues are associated with those chemicals.

But those are just potential risks, he said.

The chemicals are “higher than what we at the health department believe should be present,” Levine said, “but they are still much, much, much lower than levels described in this literature that show cancer development in individuals.”

Later in the day, the state released more details about the chemicals found in the workplace. The Department of Health said that PCE and TCE are present above the Health Department’s levels of concern in two of the three buildings. Chloroform is present at slightly above a level of concern in one of the two buildings with elevated PCE and TCE levels. Results for a third building did not reach VDH levels of concern for the three chemicals. 

"PCE and TCE are classified as carcinogens," the Health Department said in a statement. "Exposure can increase risk for kidney, bladder and blood cancers. TCE has also been associated with cardiac malformation in a developing fetus. The levels of those chemicals found present in the state’s air sampling were lower than those associated in studies with measurable increases of cancer. Additionally, each of the three chemicals leaves the body in one to two days after a person is removed from exposure."

The Department of Environmental Conservation will be putting in place a mitigation system and the state is looking for new offices for those employees.

This incident has also encouraged state officials to look into other offices that may be housed on past dry cleaner sites in order to be more proactive about potential chemical contamination.

It is still undetermined if -- after the buildings have been cleaned of the contamination --  employees will return to those same offices. 

Update 5:29 p.m, April 4, 2017: This post was updated to include additional information from the state Department of Health.

Rebecca Sananes was VPR's Upper Valley Reporter. Before joining the VPR Newsroom, she was the Graduate Fellow at WBUR and a researcher on a Frontline documentary.
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