ALAMEDA – Debris from Alameda streets have recently been laboratory tested by residents. The debris from their yards, caused by the March 29th fire at the former Army Medical Depot, tested positive for evidence of asbestos. The Alameda Fire Department had previously denied any release of the dangerous contaminants. The fire was allowed to burn for 19 hours when it occurred.
Liz Williams, an Alameda resident who lives within a mile of where the fire occurred, said, “The City of Alameda has been stonewalling our demands for debris and air quality testing all across Alameda. One person sampled ash from their property and they were told it contained 10% asbestos. We insist that the City take the lead in testing for asbestos and abating it, for the safety of all residents.”
Williams has even set up a website to to announce any updates.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is a known carcinogen. This fiber consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. Due to these characteristics, asbestos was used in many buildings and other structures throughout the 1900s. One estimation is that up to 80 percent of all buildings constructed before 1978 had asbestos within the design.
Asbestos is a danger because once disturbed, as it was in this fire, its hazardous fibers are released and inhaled. Once inhaled, they become lodged in the tissues that surround the body’s organs–such as the heart, abdomen, and lungs—and become inescapable. The exposure may lead to various asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, which may not appear until decades later.
The former Army Medical Depot building has been problematic for the Alameda police and fire departments since the U.S. Army stopped using it. Currently, the vacated building is being used by teenagers for parties. According to Fire Chief David Kapler, on the day of the fire the Alameda Fire Department did not use the City’s telephone notification system to warn residents of health concerns, because it is “old and slow.”
Williams and fellow concerned citizens have sent certified, signature-required letters to City of Alameda officials demanding a thorough test for asbestos as well as an immediate response.