Elevated levels of toxin detected at N.M. Gas Co. building in Belen

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New Mexico Gas Company employees at the Belen operations center on N.M. 314 were sent home Tuesday afternoon after "elevated levels" of cadmium were detected in the building.

Employees are not allowed back into the building until further tests can be done to discover how to properly dispose of the element and potential concerns identified by exposure, said Monica Hussey, NMGC spokeswoman.

The company is scheduling air quality tests with an environmental engineering firm and expects to receive results within a week or two.

"Right now, we are conducting further testing," Hussey said. "We need further information. We want to make an informed decision."

It is unknown how long it will take to reopen the building, the spokeswoman said.

Cadmium, used in batteries, metal coatings and plastics, is a cumulative toxin that can cause damage to the kidneys, lungs and bones, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Increased levels of this element in the body are due to slow elimination over time and can lead to kidney disease, lung damage and fragile bones.

Although most exposure to cadmium occurs in the workplace, the general population is exposed through breathing in cigarette smoke or eating contaminated foods.

Exposure to this known human carcinogen can be measured through blood, urine, hair or nail medical tests.

Belen NMGC employees, relocated to Albuquerque offices, were given the opportunity to test their level of exposure on a voluntary basis, Hussey said.

Elevated levels of cadmium were detected as part of "normal operations" while testing waste, found in a collection bag, produced by the center Tuesday afternoon, Hussey said.

"A potential concern was identified in the waste and out of abundant caution we released the employees from work," she said.

The Belen operations center is responsible for testing and repairing gas meters, which contains cadmium, sent in from locations around the state.

While at work, employees wear safety equipment, but Hussey said she didn't know what equipment that entailed.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.