Individuals in numerous occupations are at risk for devastating asbestos exposure. Firefighters and other first responders must rush into dangerous situations that often hide unforeseen hazards. Unfortunately, one of these risks is exposure to asbestos-contaminated building materials as they burn and crumble away.
A three-alarm fire in Austin, Texas, exposed 115 firefighters and civilians to the deadly material. Even though a 2013 survey found asbestos in many sections of the property’s three buildings, officials put no abatement plan into action. Affected areas included drywall, flooring, and floor adhesive. Additionally, inspectors found asbestos in the ceiling of the warehouse on the property, the building that eventually caught fire.
Officials informed the fire crews of the presence of asbestos upon the arrival of the third alarm unit. Firefighters took precautions to avoid exposure, but the blaze was significant and produced billowing smoke around the entire scene.
On guard against secondary exposure
While respiratory gear might protect the firefighter’s lungs, numerous chemicals and other fibers can penetrate the clothing and skin. If the skin and clothing is not properly cleaned of the hazardous materials, others are at risk for exposure. This secondary exposure, also referred to as indirect exposure, occurs when individuals carry the dangerous materials from the primary scene to others who would not otherwise be at risk for exposure.
Workers can carry asbestos fibers on the skin, clothing, hair, shoes or under the fingernails. An activity as simple as washing contaminated clothing at the same time as uncontaminated materials can lead to catastrophe.
In the past, experts found that asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, to be heat and fire-resistant. Many construction materials and consumer products utilized these properties to protect individuals from extreme heat. Unfortunately, when these products deteriorated, individuals could breathe in the asbestos fibers leading to asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other deadly diseases.