About 115 firefighters in Austin, Texas, may have been exposed to asbestos during a recent warehouse fire on city-owned property. On Thursday, May 6, the three-alarm fire broke out in an unused building along I-35. Officials suspect an asbestos risk and are taking precautions for firefighters.
Texas Firefighters Examined for Signs of Asbestos Exposure
An Austin Fire Department spokesperson said after the blaze, “We’re sending approximately 115 individuals for X-rays as a precautionary measure.
“Should they develop some sort of medical issue later as a result that needed treatment, establishing a baseline record and paperwork now ensures less red tape later for them to get care, even though it would be covered under the presumptive law regardless.
“We want to take care of our folks, and doing this protects them both while they’re still working for us and into retirement, too.”
So far, investigators have not determined what caused the fire. It’s unknown what was stored in the warehouse. On the official AFD incident Twitter account, the charred Travis County building had boarded windows and graffiti.
Firefighters’ Asbestos Exposure Risk
The asbestos exposure risk among firefighters is significantly higher than the general population. The material is more likely to be found in older homes and buildings. Moreover, these structures have a higher risk of fires.
First responders sometimes work in or near contaminated areas without knowing it. As a result, they may end up breathing in or swallowing airborne carcinogens.
Rates of mesothelioma are twice as high among firefighters than other occupations.
Immediate and Long-term Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure
There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet, exposure (even high levels of exposure) is not linked to any immediate symptoms.
Symptoms of asbestos exposure take years or decades to develop. Coughing, sore throat, and chest tightness immediately following asbestos exposure could be caused by other allergens.
Long-term side effects of asbestos exposure depend on where the toxin ends up in the body. General side effects of asbestos cancer include:
- Blood clots
- Excessive sweating
- Losing weight without trying
- Loss of appetite
What to Do If You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos
Once asbestos enters the body, there is no way to remove it. Consequently, preventing exposure is the best way to reduce the risk of asbestos-related disease. Health complications could take years to develop if you’ve been exposed to asbestos dust in the workplace or through home renovations.
Quitting or avoiding smoking can significantly reduce the risk of asbestos cancer. Mesothelioma studies show smoking works in combination with asbestos to damage cells.
People with a history of occupational exposure to the carcinogen should see a doctor for cancer screenings every five years. Smokers, however, should undergo annual health screenings. Those with symptoms of respiratory damage (like a cough lasting at least eight weeks) may need diagnostic cancer tests.