Firefighters Across The Country Face Asbestos Hazards

Earlier this month, we posted a story about firefighters in Everett, Washington who were exposed to asbestos fibers in the course of training exercises carried out in old and abandoned houses. Unfortunately, the stories–and the irony–don’t end there. Firefighters in North Bend, Washington, have discovered that they too are at risk from asbestos poisoning. North Bend is a community nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains about 20 miles east of Seattle, famous as the setting for the TV series Twin Peaks, which originally aired from 1990 to 1991. The fire station that serves the town houses 15 firefighters and 10 paramedics. Recent air tests showed dangerous levels of asbestos present in the aging structure. All personnel have now been evacuated from the structure and will work out of “auxiliary locations” until the municipal government can come up with a solution to the asbestos problem. The situation in North Bend is only one example of a potentially tragic situation that is cropping up all over the nation as U.S. infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Recently, three fire stations in the District of Columbia were also found to be contaminated with high levels of asbestos.

Asbestos, as most of our regular readers know, was commonly used in all kinds of construction up until the 1970s. According to some recent figures, almost 80 percent of all buildings in the U.S.–many of which are historic firehouses and other public buildings–contain some amount of asbestos in their construction. Today, as these aging buildings crumble from decades of neglect, friable (crumbling) asbestos is increasingly becoming a problem. Meanwhile, the cost of asbestos abatement remains high, and public health and safety–even for those public servants who risk their lives on a regular basis–is all too often put at risk. State and city officials continue to struggle in finding a solution. Finding workable, sustainable solutions to problems such as asbestos poisoning, problems created by or at least allowed by the leaders of the past, will continue to be a challenge, it appears, for the leaders of the future.