When disasters happen, whether they’re natural or man-made, what’s left behind in the aftermath can often be dangerous. When a building containing asbestos materials is destroyed in a fire, explosion, or other event, those instructed to accomplish the clean-up face a job that could seriously impact their lives if they don’t take the correct precautions.
Clean-up crews in Portland, Oregon are getting a first-hand lesson in cleaning up asbestos at explosion site more than three months after a gas explosion leveled a building in the Northwest portion of that city. Indeed, the presence of asbestos has also delayed clean-up of the site, local authorities note.
Matthew Van Sickle, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality, told the media that the building’s roof was 35 percent asbestos and that the explosion, which caused the material to scatter, contaminated the entire site.
As such, contractors – who are licensed in asbestos abatement – must constantly keep the rubble wet so that asbestos dust doesn’t circulate through the air and affect others working in the area.
The contractors will also keep track of the quality of the air as the clean-up proceeds.
“While the cleanup is going on, there’s going to be ambient air monitoring that’s going to happen at the site to make sure the public is kept safe, the environment is kept safe, and all the workers are going to be certified by the state in handling of asbestos waste,” explained Van Sickle, adding that the debris will all be wrapped in large tarps and eventually taken to a landfill that is permitted to receive toxic waste.
The scenario makes clean-up crews and local residents nervous about asbestos exposure, but if all rules are followed – and it seems that is the case – there should be little need for concern.
However, hopes are that, in the three months since the gas explosion occurred, no asbestos debris was disturbed.
Firefighters faced similar concerns when fighting the fire that occurred after this explosion, which was an accident and no fault of any of the tenants inside the building, which housed a number of businesses.
Luckily, these days, most firefighters are made to wear gear that stops even the tiniest of asbestos fibers from entering their breathing apparatus.
However, that wasn’t always the case. Before certain protective gear was mandatory, firefighters and others who worked to fight blazes or clean up after disasters didn’t have respirators that kept them from inhaling asbestos dust.
As a result, firefighters made their way onto the list of those most likely to be susceptible to developing asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma cancer.
A number of firefighters and other first responders who were on site in NYC on and after 9-11 developed mesothelioma just a few short years after the attacks due to the large amount of asbestos material left behind after the towers fell.