Cleanup at the site of deadly gas explosion in Durham
First responders and others who may have been exposed to asbestos fibers during the fatal gas explosion in downtown Durham are at minimal risk for lung cancer and other diseases associated with asbestos, state health officials said Thursday.
Asbestos-containing materials were present in debris sampled after a gas leak triggered the April 10 explosion and fire on North Duke Street that has killed two people and injured two dozen others, according to a news release.
“The NC Division of Public Health cannot know for sure whether anyone was exposed to asbestos during this incident,” the release said. “However, based on our test results and the short time that elapsed before dust was controlled at the site, we believe the potential for public exposure to asbestos was minimal.”
Air-quality monitors were in place Wednesday before workers began removing debris from the explosion site. They sprayed water on the rubble piles to minimize that amount of dust stirred up as the debris was loaded.
North Duke Street has been closed since April 10. The city is working with the N.C. Department of Transportation to determine when the street can be reopened, said Durham spokeswoman Beverly Thompson.
“There’s still a lot of work to do, some related to the debris removal and the adjacent buildings as well,” she said. “So it’s difficult at this point to project when the street may be reopened.”
Asbestos fibers resist heat, fire, and chemicals, and do not conduct electricity. They have been used in roofing, insulation and other construction materials for for many years, and while their use has declined, they remain in many older buildings, health officials said in the news release. Asbestos is also found in low levels in the air, water and soil.
“If products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air,” the release said. “When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.”
The main diseases associated with asbestos exposure are asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare aggressive cancer. “Most people don’t show any signs or symptoms of asbestos-related disease for 10 to 20 years or more after exposure,” the release said.
Few people become ill from short-term exposure, it continued, with problems most often occurring in people whose jobs place them in regular contact with the material.
For more information about asbestos risks, people may contact the N.C. Division of Public Health, Occupation and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, at 919-707-5900.