Recently a steam pipe exploded in downtown Baltimore causing injuries to five people and damage to surrounding cars and buildings. Four of the five injured were taken to the hospital, but luckily two of them were discharged the same day. Police immediately blocked off the area when they arrived on the scene, and firefighters hosed down the surrounding area to prevent any melting from residual heat. The official cause of the explosion is unknown and still being investigated.
Just a couple days after the explosion, it was reported that environmental tests showed low levels of asbestos at the site. The police department was also notified that the officers who first responded to the scene were possibly exposed to asbestos from the explosion’s dust and debris. Sadly, it is fairly common for first responders to have a higher risk of asbestos exposure any time there has been damage to older pipes or buildings due to natural or man-made disasters. Certified asbestos contractors from the Maryland Department of Environment have been monitoring the situation closely and assisting with cleanup. However, we are still seeing reports that asbestos is being found in areas nearby.
Asbestos Was Once Used to Insulate Steam Pipes
Taken in 1921, metal pipes in a refinery were covered with asbestos wrappings for insulation.
Many pipefitters and steamfitters worked in close contact with products containing asbestos. In addition to installing the metal pipes, other products, such as asbestos lagging, had to be used to insulate them due to their ability to resist heat. Use of thermal insulation made with asbestos continued until 1975, and gaskets/packing made with asbestos continued until the late 1980s.
Our attorneys have represented many clients who once worked as pipefitters and were exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Work-related asbestos exposure is typically the most common. However, this explosion has now caused concern for not only those who manufactured the pipes but also the general public who frequents this area. There is no “safe” level of exposure to asbestos; even minimal levels can cause asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. We will continue to monitor this story closely and share any updates related asbestos concerns.