Large Fire In A Tennessee Warehouse Leads To Risks Of Asbestos Exposure

A massive fire in Chattanooga on Tuesday resulted in asbestos fibers permeating throughout the air, placing both firefighters and anyone in the vicinity in danger.

ABC 9 reports that the fire started on early Tuesday morning at the Standard Coosa Thatcher plant, off of South Watkins Street. Although no one was inside the building when the fire started (the building shut down in 2001), one firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion while others risked asbestos exposure from spending hours trying to putting out the flames.

The old warehouse, filled with asbestos, was in the process of demolition when the fire occurred, with plans to eventually turn it into an 170-unit affordable housing community. According to Chattanooga Fire Department spokesperson, Bruce Garner, one of the building burned completely down, but firefighters continued to work endlessly, taking shifts, to help stop the fire from spreading further.

“One building burned to the ground and there was some fire extension into an adjacent building. The firefighters spent the last several hours going through the building, room by room, putting out any hot spots they came across. Battalion Chief Lesley Morgan said no injuries were reported in this operation, but the firefighters had to be rotated out due to the high heat and humidity. By 2:30 p.m., the firefighters had completed their mop-up operation and left the scene. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.”

Developer Tim Boyle confirmed that plans to build the housing community were still in effect, and that the fire showed that the fragile, old building was in dire need of improvements. According to Boyle, he’ll need more financing at this point to keep the project going, but he hopes to have construction started by January 2017.  He also indicated that the development would help drive crime out.

“When you start economic development (in this neighborhood), crime and other bad elements move out.”

Meanwhile, although no injuries were reported, the firefighters on the scene may need to undergo long-term medical testing for asbestos exposure. Since asbestos-related diseases can take up to 50 years to manifest, initial testing may not show any illnesses.

Asbestos Studies on Firefighters

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the United States Fire Administration (USFA), a study performed between 1987 and 2003 in Massachusetts showed the firefighters are at risk not only for asbestos-related diseases, but also bladder cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, and leukemia.

In 2013, NIOSH updated its findings to indicate that 30,000 firefighters who worked at three large cities in the U.S. had a higher rate of developing the aforementioned cancers than the entire U.S. as a whole. Mesothelioma, in particular, was shown to affect firefighters two times greater than the rate of the nation as a whole.

In the past, firefighters were likely to be exposed not only while working to put out flames, but also from helmets and other gear that were once made with asbestos materials. Today, although firefighter gear typically isn’t designed with asbestos materials anymore, the dangerous mineral is still found in older residential homes and buildings. Firefighters generally come into contact with asbestos in the following ways:

  • Roofing materials
  • Old appliances
  • Furnaces and gaskets
  • Vinyl roofing
  • Shingles

Although the risk for asbestos exposure remains, most states have their own laws, and also must follow federal regulations that enforce safety procedures for firefighters. For instance, firefighter training must never be performed in old buildings that contains asbestos, specifically for open burning training. Self-contained breathing masks and other protective gear must also always be worn.

In the past, failure to follow procedures and regulations has resulted in numerous people being placed at risk for asbestos while training, such as the incident in Everett, Washington. Dozens of firefighters in Everett trained in an asbestos-filled building without being provided the proper protection. Most of the firefighters ended up filing asbestos lawsuits against the city, but were mostly concerned about their health and medical expenses. Although the city eventually agreed to a settlement, the firefighters will need lifetime medical checkups for asbestos exposure.

Additional Help and Resources for Asbestos Victims

If you’ve been injured by asbestos, keep in mind that there is a good chance that you’ll qualify for considerable compensation. Don’t forget to use our free Asbestos Attorney Locator Tool to find a top mesothelioma lawyer in your area. If you have questions or need additional assistance, contact us at 800-793-4540. 

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