California Officials Urging Caution to Families Returning to Burned Homes

Fire-damaged residences that were built before 1980 most likely contained asbestos in the form of insulation or other products and environmental and health officials are encouraging homeowners to be wary of airborne toxins when they return to their property

Syracuse, NY 5/13/2009 01:55 AM GMT (TransWorldNews)

When 8,700 acres went up in flames outside of Santa Barbara, California in a matter of days, authorities were concerned that citizens could face serious lung damage from debris from the fire.

 Now authorities are issuing statements to ensure that California residents and citizens all across the United States are aware of the best way to avoid lung damage from inhaling airborne toxins after a fire.

 As residents of an area stricken by recurring fires begin to clear ash and other debris from their cars and homes, toxic dust can become airborne, leading to health problems, as well as dangerous air quality issues.

 Inhaled asbestos particles have been linked to asbestosis, lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma. Inhaled ash may also lead to severe respiratory issues.

 California officials strongly urge people to take precautions when cleaning up fire-related debris. Health officials recommend wearing a well-fitting dust mask while cleaning up and working around debris, as asbestos fibers may become airborne when rubble and debris are shifted. Protective glasses or goggles should also be worn, as should disposable clothing, shoe booties and gloves. Individuals who are working in and around asbestos-containing debris should remove clothing, shoes and other items that may be covered in asbestos dust before traveling to another location, as this will prevent secondhand asbestos dust exposure.

 Masks rated N95 or P100 are the best, and as commonly found at hardware stores. Those without masks should cover their nose and mouth with a damp cloth when they are around asbestos debris.

 Authorities also caution homeowners about returning to their homes if asbestos was present in the house. A certified asbestos consultant should be contacted if the home contained asbestos products, and it is recommended that homeowners do not tackle do-it-yourself asbestos abatement. If a homeowner must enter or work in an area where asbestos materials may be present, the materials should be dampened with a hose to avoid generating dust.

 If a homeowner is determined to handle asbestos materials on their own, environmental officials recommend that homeowners wear a P100 HEPA respirator, which typically has magenta or purple filters.

 Children and pets should be prohibited from entering a home that has been damaged by fire and may contain asbestos debris. Children who inhale asbestos fibers may be well into their fifties or sixties before they begin to suffer from asbestos disease symptoms. In rare instances, pets have developed mesothelioma cancer as a result from asbestos exposure.

 Firefighters and other first responders who are working in and around asbestos-containing rubble should wear a self-contained breathing apparatus, (SCBA) or an equivalent to avoid inhalation of airborne toxins.

 For homeowners who live in a residence that sustained minimal damage but that requires minor repairs and upgrades, it is advisable to replace asbestos-containing materials, such as attic insulation, drywall, or roofing tiles, with a “greener” alternative. Asbestos insulation alternatives, for example, include walnut shell or rice hull flour, cellulose, corn cob “grits,” and sawdust.


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