Training Exercises Expose Firefighters to Asbestos
The Virginia Beach (Virginia) Firefighters Association has recently filed complaints with both state and federal agencies, alleging that its members were exposed to hazardous asbestos during training exercises. It’s a scenario that’s all too common among fire companies throughout the United States.
The agency, which is the union for local firefighters, claim that fire officials knowingly exposed its members to the hazardous material when it burned an empty house that contained asbestos as part of a training exercise for members of the department. The city denies mistakes were made but has downplayed the incident.
“The city and the firefighters group agree the house contained the material, but how much was there and when fire officials learned of its existence is in dispute,” writes firehouse.com.
Apparently, the home was donated to the fire company by its owner, who knew one of the officials. It was built in the 1930s, which should have been a red flag since most homes built prior to the 1970s contained at least some amount of asbestos.
When the incident was discovered, the VA Beach Firefighters Association filed complaints with a number of different agencies including the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state departments of environmental quality, labor and industry, as well as the local branch of OSHA. They also informed the city’s auditor.
“This act appears to be a clear violation of federal and state environmental laws and cannot be tolerated or ignored,” Bill Bailey, a retired Virginia Beach firefighter and president of the organization, wrote in a statement released Monday to the group’s members.
“This incident was reported so that the appropriate city, state, and federal agencies could fully and thoroughly investigate this incident and take appropriate action.
The trust of the public as well as the firefighters has been damaged and can only be regained by a complete, transparent, and thorough investigation along with appropriate consequences.”
What made the training burn especially suspect was the fact that union officials learned that a particular battalion chief had cancelled the first burn scheduled at the home because he feared that the exterior included siding that contained asbestos.
But city officials say that wasn’t the case. They maintain that only small amounts of asbestos were contained inside or outside the house, limited to an area near the fireplace.
They also claim the asbestos wasn’t discovered until weeks after the exercise concluded.
Nonetheless, experts have long stated that any amount of exposure to asbestos is too much. Even minute, brief exposure can cause disease.
None of the firefighters that were involved in the exercise that day knew asbestos was present nor did the dozens of people that watched the burn, including about 30 children, the union reports.
Hence, no one would have taken the precautions necessary to avoid inhaling the toxin.