Structural fires can be devastating to a property owner. Outside of the loss of possessions is the added burden of environmental hazards from fire byproducts such as soot, dioxins, or char. An environmental obstacle that is often overlooked is damaged asbestos-containing materials in the property. In today’s blog we will discuss asbestos-containing materials and how they can be impacted by fire.
Basics of Asbestos
Asbestos refers to a group of six regulated minerals. These minerals are referred to as; chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. Until the late 1970s, the presence of asbestos was ubiquitous in building materials. Common examples include; floor tile, pipe insulation, ceiling tiles, drywall, and plaster. Asbestos was coveted for its properties which allow materials to become more durable, heat resistant, and soundproof. Exposure to asbestos can lead to health effects such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. The health effects generally have a latency period of 10 to 40 years.
Friable vs Non-Friable
Asbestos materials can be divided into two categories; friable and non-friable. Friable materials are materials that can ground into a powder with hand pressure while dry. Examples of these materials are wall systems, pipe insulation, and subfloor insulation. These are considered to be high risk according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Friable materials are more likely to release fibers than non-friable materials thus have a higher health risk. However, non-friable materials can be rendered friable if they are damaged.
How Does Fire Impact Asbestos
Most building materials are susceptible to fire-related damage. Asbestos mineral fibers are very heat resistant and thus, are likely to survive a fire. The binder present in asbestos-containing materials are generally not heat resistant. Fire damage to most asbestos containing materials can render them friable. This, in addition to possible damage to the structure may release asbestos-containing materials in wall cavities, attics, or subfloors. It’s imperative that asbestos testing is conducted in the property to determine the safety of removing building materials. Not accounting for asbestos-containing materials in post-fire restoration could lead to asbestos exposure for workers on the site. Also, improper disposal of these materials may lead to asbestos being transported to waste facility unfit to store hazardous waste.
Conclusions When fire impacts a property, it can lead to various environmental hazards such as fire byproducts and asbestos contamination. While fire testing can be somewhat unregulated, asbestos is governed by regulatory bodies such as the EPA, OSHA, states and municipalities. Overlooking asbestos during fire recovery can lead to possible exposure to works and regulatory consequences. If you are in need of an asbestos-inspection post-fire reach out to an environmental consultant such as Indoor Science.