Fires and Asbestos: Inhaling More than Smoke

This year’s California wildfires are horrible. Entire towns have been lost and countless individuals are missing, last seen before the fires spread to their homes and places of businesses. The outlook is not a positive one and it seems like it will be a long time until the flames are under control and the lost individuals are accounted for…one way or another.

Fires and AsbestosNevertheless, once the fires are extinguished, there will remain much work to do. The thought of cleaning up what is left behind is overwhelming and, in most cases, will require months and months of work on behalf of the homeowners and the others who’ve lost so much, likely aided by friends and family as well as various agencies.

Most individuals and families who’ve lost their homes are determined to return as soon as they are allowed and will no doubt dive right into the debris that’s been left behind to find what they can from their former life. Photo albums, family heirlooms, other treasures…those things are important to so many and it’s natural that they’ll want to see if they can find at least a trace of those items among the ash.

But because of what may have burned in those fires, individuals should resist the desire to go digging, so to speak. Firefighters will tell you that what’s left behind after a fire can be equally as toxic as the fire itself. And while the smoke might be gone, plenty of toxins remain, including asbestos and other hazards.

During the recent California fires, many of the homes that burned were built prior to 1980, when the use of asbestos was essentially halted. That means many of those houses, now burned to the ground, included asbestos-containing insulation, siding, shingles, tiles, drywall and drywall glue, cement, and more. In a fire, much of those materials would remain behind (thanks to asbestos’ fire-proof properties) but would be damaged or easily crumbled. That’s when asbestos is at its most toxic.

Therefore, anyone who further disturbs those materials is likely to inhale errant asbestos fibers, which can become lodged in the lungs and eventually cause cancer. Though the disease won’t likely show up immediately, it could certainly appear years from now.

That’s why its important that fire victims leave such recovery work to the professionals…individuals who are able to safely comb through debris and then dispose of it properly. They will wear the correct protective gear and follow the prescribed procedures for dealing with toxic waste. Homeowners, on the other hand, are just in there to recover lost belongings and it’s doubtful that they’ll be following safety rules.

Remember, toxins found during and after fires – like asbestos – kill more people than do the actual flames from a fire. Victims of any kind of fire should leave the clean-up to those who know how to address it properly, therefore avoiding the possibility that the fire will continue to kill, even decades after the blaze is extinguished.