Could Wildfire Season Create New Asbestos Dangers?

Californians welcomed the wet winter that brought spring’s lush green fields to life. Unfortunately, that same beautiful landscape is expected to dry out over the summer months and may pose a safety risk due to anticipated wildfires.

The Golden State has been ravaged by wildfires in recent years that reduce whole communities to ash. The homes and commercial buildings that burn are sometimes rife with carcinogens such as asbestos. The searing heat of the massive burns sends toxins into the air, and everyday people are impacted hundreds of miles away from the source.

Last year was considered the deadliest wildfire season in California’s history. A record 1,893,913 acres were leveled and upwards of $3.5 billion in damages resulted. When it was all over, more than 18,000 structures were reduced to ash. Those figures topped the “Thomas Fire” that impacted Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The 2017 Thomas Fire devastated more than 1,000 structures, and alerts were issued for residents to protect themselves against asbestos-tainted smoke and soot.

Air quality during the massive “Camp Fire” that garnered major headlines during the 2018 wildfire season reportedly reduced breathable air to unhealthy levels of 200 AQI in the Bay Area. Floating particles, including cancer-causing asbestos, lingered for months. Not only did the wildfires create toxic conditions in the immediate area, but the air quality was also impacted as far as the Central U.S.

Legacy asbestos released in fires

What many Americans may be unaware of is that asbestos remains integrated into many of the older home building materials. Communities still have single-family homes that are covered in sealed asbestos tiles. Although these homes are considered safe provided the asbestos remains undisturbed and in good repair, fires send the particles into the atmosphere. Firefighters are at particular risk, but even the public miles away can be exposed. Asbestos remains an indiscriminate cancer-causing killer.

And the aftermath of these widespread wildfires continues to present a danger of asbestos contaminates. Cleanup crews, adults and even children that inadvertently come into contact with the ash, soot, and debris can be unknowingly exposed. That’s one of the unnerving things about asbestos poisoning. Most people don’t even know they were exposed until after the fact.

As these bountiful fields begin to dry out in the summer heat, Californians and people in neighboring states may want to prepare themselves. Breathing masks are a must and precautions must be taken to avoid contact with any post-fire materials.