Fires in Beit Meir and Haifa, Israel have local residents worried about the risk of exposure to asbestos products that were used inside the buildings that burned in the fires, which were believed to have been set by Arab arsonists. Now, the country’s Environmental Protection Ministry is warning those residents to protect themselves.
According to several media reports, the agency has suggested that civilians stay at least 50 meters from affected buildings or arson sites so as not to come in contact with asbestos dust left behind after the fires.
Anyone who enters these sites, including firefighters or rescue workers, have been instructed to wear protective gear to avoid inhalation of the toxic particles.
The agency reports that though asbestos products haven’t been allowed for some time in Israel, it is common to find the material in stairwells and on the outside of many older buildings there.
Asbestos was often added to cement for strength and may also be found in siding, shingles, tiles, mastics, and other building materials.
A spokesperson for the Environmental Ministry released a statement about asbestos exposure to the press.
He said, “During the fire, the cement locked in the burned boards. The boards made of asbestos began to come apart, and asbestos fibers were released into the air. Asbestos fibers change their shape only when the temperature reaches above 700 degrees Celsius. It is therefore imperative to work as quickly as possible in order to remove the asbestos from all affected sites.”
Often, first responders are at the highest risk of encountering asbestos in such scenarios. Firefighters, police, and EMTs are likely candidates for inhalation of toxic fibers, especially when they aren’t warned of the presence of asbestos or they fail to take the proper precautions.
This has happened in the U.S. during firefighter training exercises or during search and rescue missions after fires or other tragedies.
Emergency workers at the World Trade Center were exposed to tons of asbestos and other toxins when they rushed onto the scene on Sept. 11, 2001.
Several of these 9-11 EMTs and fire and police personnel died within just a few years of exposure to those hazardous materials and others have passed away since them. Some are just now being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other lung cancers while others will likely be diagnosed in the future.
It’s essential for anyone who lives in the vicinity of a fire or other disaster that may have involved structures containing asbestos to avoid the site until clean-up by experienced professionals is complete.
Asbestos, when inhaled, becomes lodged in the lung area (or sometimes other parts of the body) and can eventually cause asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Those diseases are not limited to individuals who worked with asbestos on a daily basis. It has been determined that even a minimal exposure can result in the development of an asbestos-related disease.