Safety Tips to Avoid Asbestos Exposure After a House or Building Fire
Even today, asbestos poisoning is a hidden risk inside many homes and buildings in America. After a fire, the need for safety from asbestos exposure is even higher.
In the U.S., firefighters face some of the highest rates of asbestos-related health problems due to exposure from burning structures.
Before 1990, manufacturers added the mineral fiber to thousands of materials (including construction supplies and store products). Moreover, many of these materials are costly to replace in homes and buildings (such as floor tiles, roofing, siding, and more). Consequently, countless property owners chose to forgo replacing asbestos-containing material (ACM). Instead, most use abatement techniques like encapsulation to manage friable asbestos.
Fires, in addition to other types of structural damage, cause these abatement methods to fail. Typically, any asbestos contaminating a house prior a fire causes contamination afterward too. Cleanup activities could significantly increase health risks for people on site and living nearby.
Keep reading for asbestos safety tips to use after a fire (total or contained to one part) at houses and buildings.
Asbestos Risk After a Fire
Usually, the asbestos contained in homes doesn’t pose a large threat. Asbestos-wrapped products like furnace ducts, steam pipes, and boilers in good condition shouldn’t be disturbed (reducing risk). However, ACM often releases toxic dust when damaged, torn, or worn down. Additionally, fire damage exposes all microscopic fibers in ACM to the air. The mineral’s particles can be too small to see and can stay in the air for days.
During a fire, heat causes ACMs to crack and pop. As a result, asbestos fibers are sent airborne. Wholly, and even partially, burnt debris could be contaminated. Likewise, heat damage to surrounding buildings and/or materials that contain the fiber is a threat for exposure.
Unfortunately, cleanup activities are the biggest danger to asbestos safety following a fire. Directly afterward, airborne asbestos levels are usually low. Moving debris, however, kicks up large amounts of the fiber into the air. In the area, workers and people living nearby are at risk of asbestos-caused diseases if they breathe in the carcinogen for too long.
Yet, there are a few safety tips you can use to reduce your risk of asbestos exposure after a house or building fire.
Tips for Reducing Risk
Often, buildings damaged by fire undergo large renovations and/or demolitions. Consequently, any ACM not disturbed by the fire could be a risk during construction. Most states have laws about handling asbestos to prevent exposing yourself or others to cancer-causing particles.
Asbestos exposure risks come from:
- Breathing fibers in through the nose or mouth
- Swallowing fibers
- Getting fibers caught on skin, hair, or clothes
Follow the asbestos tips below for your safety after a fire:
- Avoid potentially contaminated areas. After a fire, wait for professionals to give the go-ahead before returning to the area. In addition to smoldering debris, toxic exposure to chemicals from damaged home products is a risk.
- Wear protective clothing. Personal protective equipment covers parts of your body at risk of touch contaminated areas (like your hands and feet). Also, some PPE gear covers your clothes, skin, and/or face (such as a mask).
- Treat all materials like they’re contaminated. For homes built before 1990, a range of materials contained asbestos. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in case of a fire, act as if any damaged material you come across is an ACM.
- Ensure cleanup is done by professionals. The best way to reduce your exposure risk after a fire is to allow state-certified professionals to manage the cleanup. Generally, these crews have experience handling ACM and preventing community exposure.
Breathing in Asbestos
Sometimes, breathing in asbestos particles after a fire leads to asbestos-related diseases years later. As a cancer-causing material, there is no safe level of exposure. Typically, the time between inhaling asbestos and onset of symptoms lasts between 10 and 40 years.
Other sources of exposure, such as occupational asbestos exposure, could also significantly increase your risk of asbestos-caused cancers (such as mesothelioma). In fact, firefighters filed some of the first asbestos legal claims. In 2013, research showed that the group still had twice the rate of mesotheliomas as the general population.
Those with a high risk for asbestos-induced lung and other cancers should receive regular health screenings. Those diagnosed with a related disease may qualify for benefits and/or compensation for their illness.