For centuries, various societies have relied upon asbestos for a variety of purposes. After all, when mined, it simply looks and behaves like a normal mineral. Moreover, given its relatively low cost along with some very useful properties, asbestos traditionally seemed like the perfect solution for many construction industry products.
But now, it is widely known that asbestos, in certain circumstances, poses extreme risks to human health. Steps have been taken around the world to improve the situation, but dangers still remain. For example, is asbestos flammable? What happens when asbestos is present in a burning building, and how much do we need to worry about asbestos after fires?
Why Should We Be Concerned about Asbestos in Burning Buildings?
Asbestos was long used in industries ranging from car parts, to shipyards, to construction, and everything in between. In fact, for many years, some industries hid the dangers of asbestos, even after companies learned about them. Fortunately, a number of high profile lawsuits helped bring the issue to a head. Government regulation has also played an important role in improving worker safety.
However, while it is true that asbestos is used less now than in the past, it has not been completely banned in the United States. Additionally, many buildings have extremely long lives. Therefore, even when we take into consideration that many construction products that once used asbestos have now stopped using it, we must remember that thousands upon thousands of buildings and homes were constructed before those changes took place. Therefore, these older buildings often contain products made with asbestos.
As a result, concerns over the presence of asbestos after a fire are still completely relevant in today’s times.
The Dangers of Asbestos
Asbestos is not dangerous to humans in its natural state. However, when particles of asbestos become airborne, they can be inhaled, sometimes resulting in deadly consequences. Thus, avoiding these airborne particles is crucial.
Is Asbestos Flammable?
Asbestos is not flammable. In fact, it is believed that the name asbestos actually comes from a Greek word meaning “inextinguishable” because it was used to make wicks that would never burn up. Because asbestos is not flammable, it has been used in fireproofing and to produce fire retardant materials, like fire blankets.
So, if asbestos is not flammable, why should we still worry about asbestos after fires?
What Happens to Asbestos in a Fire?
Though asbestos is not flammable on its own, there are several ways a fire can expose people to asbestos. See two examples below:
- Burning asbestos tiles – Tiles or other materials containing asbestos can catch fire, thus releasing fibers into the air and exposing people to asbestos-related illness.
- Building collapse – Often, burning or fire-damaged buildings collapse. This can release even more asbestos fibers into the air.
Prolonged Exposure is Worse
The longer a person is exposed to asbestos particles, the greater the risk of developing mesothelioma and other dangerous health conditions. These dangers should concern anyone who is exposed to burned or damaged buildings, especially older buildings. However, those who are exposed regularly, such as firefighters and custodians, should be especially careful.
Protecting Our Firefighters
Firefighters represent some of the bravest people we will ever encounter, and their contributions to society cannot be overstated. These men and women put themselves in harm’s way to protect us all. Firefighters face the dangers of carbon monoxide, deadly heat and fire, and collapsing buildings. They also face the dangers of long-term exposure to asbestos, including the potential to develop mesothelioma.
Fortunately, by taking the following safety measures, firefighters can reduce the risk of exposure to asbestos:
- Always wear self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA);
- Wear appropriate protective clothing;
- Do not disturb dust (which may contain asbestos);
- Shower after exposure, and change clothes;
- Follow all OSHA guidelines.
Call with Questions
If you are a firefighter or other worker who is suffering the ill effects of long term exposure to asbestos, you probably have a variety of questions. The experienced mesothelioma lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield will be happy to give you answers. Whether you want us to help with an investigation, hold a wrongdoer accountable, or simply answer some questions, we look forward to receiving your call.