A fire at a warehouse storing recycled plastics last month in Indiana has raised concerns about asbestos exposure, according to numerous news outlets. The fear of asbestos has led to the displacement of around 2,000 residents in the small city of Richmond from their homes.
NBC News reported the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started testing the debris from the fire for asbestos and other toxins. Asbestos can cause cancer, including malignant mesothelioma, a rare disease forming in the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity.
The EPA often is involved in widespread environmental issues including large fires or other environmental concerns regarding asbestos contamination. The EPA detected particulate matter from smoke in the air, although it’s unknown if it’s asbestos. The mineral is durable and resists heat, but if it’s involved in a fire, it can be broken down. Fragments of asbestos are weightless and can contaminate the air.
Since asbestos fibers are microscopic, it is nearly impossible to detect the toxic mineral by sight. If asbestos contaminates the air, anyone in the area may be exposed to the hazardous substance. Ingesting (swallowing) or inhaling (breathing in) asbestos can have severe consequences. Asbestos exposure is known to result in serious health issues, including cancer. Mesothelioma is a very rare type of cancer caused only by exposure to asbestos.
Richmond, where the facility is located, has around 36,000 residents. It’s located 70 miles east of Indianapolis. NBC News reported that the warehouse contained large amounts of shredded and bulk recycled plastic. City officials and EPA officials urged residents to avoid any debris on their property.
Why Asbestos Might Be Involved
The EPA worries that asbestos might be involved due to the age of the warehouse that caught fire. Even though the recycled plastics probably don’t contain asbestos, the warehouse itself did.
Asbestos was mostly banned in the 1980s, but there are still remnants of the substance around the United States. It was frequently used in various industries – including construction – for nearly an entire century. The danger of asbestos today is the risk of finding legacy asbestos, which is asbestos remaining in structures or components built during the 20th century.
If old buildings containing asbestos are still standing and have yet to be renovated, the old asbestos could be decaying, which would make it fragile and easily broken apart. Properly removing or preserving asbestos in any way is the only way to prevent asbestos exposure. This facility in Richmond, Indiana, fits the description of an old building that likely contains decaying asbestos. Legacy asbestos may be to blame for the asbestos concerns in Richmond.
- Some debris from Indiana plastics fire may contain asbestos, EPA warns as particulate matter enters the air. NBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/indiana-plastics-fire-smoke-particles-toxins-asbestos-rcna79391. Accessed: 04/29/2023.
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