While we normally look at how asbestos affects the construction and worksites, we wanted to illustrate the dangers of naturally occurring issues such as floods, tornados, or fires that can present asbestos problems.

Recently the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District recently released a short report on large amounts of asbestos-containing materials (ACM) getting into the air from wildfires. When fires burn hot enough even ACMs burn up, sending damaging smoke into the air.

Be Wary of Asbestos After Building Fires

Caution is necessary to avoid asbestos exposure when retrieving personal items and during the clean-up of fire debris or demolishing buildings and structures after wildfires or urban fires.

Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) may be part of your building, even if it was recently constructed. When building materials are burned or damaged, any asbestos fibers present in the ash and debris can become airborne and easily inhaled.

Buildings, homes, and other structures built in older areas of cities or towns are especially susceptible to asbestos dangers after a fire. Even if your building or home is fairly new (constructed after 1980), being in an older area of a town or city can pose risks. Other buildings may contain ACMs that got into the air due to a large fire.

Asbestos Rules to Follow After a Building Fire

It should be noted that the USEPA has regulations for Fire Departments or others who perform “Training Burns” of damaged or unwanted structures for firefighter training purposes; all friable and non-friable materials must be removed from the building prior to destruction by fire.

The San Diego APCD gave the following guidelines to what homeowners would expect after the wildfire had died down. Important: All of the following are not recommendations for non-licensed professionals. These are steps professional asbestos removal and abatement teams use when they start clean-ups.

  • Where ACM is known to be present the debris/ash should be stabilized by wetting and covering with plastic sheeting until it is removed. This will help to reduce the release of asbestos fibers into the air.
  • Avoid mixing ACM with other debris/ash, as this contaminates everything with asbestos. Thoroughly wet ash and debris during cleanup and demolition activities. For wetting, use a dispenser like a garden sprayer or a water hose with a nozzle that creates a fine, low-pressure spray or mist to avoid “kicking up” dust. It is suggested to use water mixed with a wetting agent, such as liquid dish detergent or another surfactant (1 tablespoon per 2-3 gallons of water), as that will make it easier to keep the debris wet without excessive water runoff
  • ACM must be disposed of at a landfill approved to receive asbestos

If you have experienced a home or building fire and need help, please contact a local contractor or your fire department for more information.

Illinois Environmental Contractors Association Resources

For more information on finding a local contractor to assist with asbestos information, remediation, or removal check the resources below:

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