On May 6, 2021, approximately 115 firefighters in Austin, Texas, were exposed to asbestos while responding to a burning warehouse. Firefighters were alerted to the dangers of asbestos one hour after the fire was put out.
Firefighting is a high-risk occupation for asbestos exposure. Fire damage can release asbestos fibers in old buildings into the air. Inhaling asbestos fibers can lead to serious health conditions, such as mesothelioma.
2021 Texas Warehouse Fire
On May 6, 2021, a city-owned warehouse located in the Saint John neighborhood of Austin caught fire. The city purchased the warehouse in 2013. At the time, a survey of buildings found asbestos in the warehouse. This survey discovered asbestos in “drywall, floors, flooring adhesives, and ceilings of the main warehouse”.
City Department Building Services workers completed a safety check at noon, three hours before the fire started. The cause of the fire is unknown.
Firefighters were exposed to fire
Firefighters were alerted to the potential hazards of asbestos exposure when the third alert unit arrived. The initial response team arrived five minutes after receiving a call regarding the fire. They were working to put out the fire for an hour when they learned about the potential dangers of exposure.
In the event of a fire, firefighters may come into contact with hundreds of hazardous materials, such as asbestos. Thus, firefighters always take public safety precautions.
Additional precautions were taken after this fire. Firefighters’ equipment was analyzed for asbestos rather than simply being disinfected.
The firefighters also performed a chest x-ray shortly after the exposure. X-rays establish a baseline if there are medical concerns regarding asbestos in the future. Asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma, can take decades to appear. Thus, it is unknown how many, if any, firefighters will be affected by this potential exposure.
incident report, KXAN
Occupations at high risk
There are certain occupations with a higher risk of exposure to asbestos. Some of these high-risk industries include shipbuilding, construction, and oil refining. First responders, such as firefighters, are also among those most at risk of exposure.
Asbestos regulations have been in place since the 1970s, but many older homes and buildings still contain asbestos products. Hence, it is a constant concern for workers in these industries.
Risks of exposure to asbestos
Asbestos is a durable mineral that was once used in many public and residential buildings. It is a low cost, heat and fire resistant material. For this reason, it was added to many popular building materials prior to the 1980s.
Many old buildings still contain asbestos. If the asbestos is left undisturbed, it is relatively safe. However, building repair or rebuilding can release asbestos fibers. These tiny fibers can cause asbestos-related lung cancers and diseases, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and fibrosis.
risk of developing mesothelioma
Exposure to asbestos does not guarantee that you will develop a related disease. However, asbestos is a harmful substance that must be exposed.
It is the main cause of mesothelioma. Although there is no cure, there are a variety of treatment options for this disease. There are also several promising developmental therapies.
It is best to seek help from a medical professional if current or previous exposure to asbestos is possible. Individuals should also speak to their doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms of mesothelioma:
- Shortness of breath
- fluid buildup
- Difficulty swallowing
Firefighters exposed to asbestos must remain alert to symptoms
The Texas warehouse fire highlights the dangers of asbestos that firefighters often encounter in the line of duty. If a burning building contains asbestos, firefighters face a high risk of exposure. In some cases, firefighters may not be alerted to the hazard until a response to the fire is already underway.
– A spokesperson for the Austin Fire Department, KXAN
If a firefighter or other first responder is exposed to asbestos, the best course of action is to speak with a medical professional. Health care providers can advise those exposed to asbestos on the most appropriate way to monitor for possible mesothelioma symptoms.