Materials and Disaster Recovery
Emergency Services Personnel
and Gentlemen, I author this article with many many feelings, as I know
you all have, after the events of this week in NY, Washington and Pennsylvania.
I have been literally in tears watching the response and recovery efforts.
Still, in a professional manner, I feel this is a timely instance to discuss
responder safety relative to Hazardous Materials during times of response
and recovery. While the terrorist situation obviously comes to mind
, these basic principles of toxilogical protection apply to all R and R
situations, and all emergency service responders and first responnse personnel
(fire service, red cross, disaster assistance, police and emergency medical
services, investigatory personnel).
as you realize, fall into two broad catagories: Those which expolde or
cause fires, and those that are poisons. In the emergency services
field, we have become fairly adapt at identifying the "fire causers" and
the acute poisons. These are in containers or situations we recognize.
We are not as adapt at the identification of TOXIC Materials, those materials
encased in building components which, under normal conditions, are not
a threat. Indeed , they add to the stability of the buildinigs themselves.
Our exposure as a population has been well catagorized to these materials
when they are in place in normal situations. Materials such as ASBESTOS
(a building insulating material), LEAD (in particular in paint) and ambient
DUSTS come to mind. Lets look at these materials, and how they may
effect R and R Operations.
||All of the
above are present in solid structures. With a rapid failure of a
structure, they may be present in air, and if we as R and R personnel are
in these areas, we may be exposed. Unfortunately , the effects of
these materials are long term, so immediate response personnel may not
know the effects of their exposure for an extended period of time.
Obviously, the principles of remaining away from the area for as long a
period of time as possible reduces any exposures. Next , if a response
is necessary to protect health or the environment, we must be aware of
the characteristics of these materials.
ASBESTOS is a mineral, microscopic in size. One fiber of asbestos
, a lighting bolt like shaped material, may remain in the lower lungs ,
and lead to excess risks of cancer, asbestosis or maladies of the mesothelial
lining of the lungs. ASBESTOS fibers are so small that only HEPA
filtered equipment will eliminate them, if they are present.
LEAD is an elemental metal, which causes maladies of the Central Nervous
System and blocks the blood forming abilities of the bones. Severe
LEAD poisoning may lead to death. Lead particles are small and only
HEPA filtered equipment will eliminate them.
Dusts are multisized, and dependant upon size and shape, may enter different
parts of the lungs. The body has a natural defense against inordinate
amounts of lungs, in that it attempts to expell(cough) them. Dusts
also contain both lead and asbestos, if present , as well as other toxic
is necessary, in particular long responses, it is essential to identify
the above toxins, as well as any other "special materials" that may be
present in non typical buildings, and plan to protect ourselves.
Exposure may occur in two manners: through inhilation, or through secondary
exposures (off one's clothes) which again will result in inhilation.
SCBA or SAR typically can last for minimal timeframes, relative to the
times neccessary for R and R operations, therefore HEPA filtered respiratory
protectioin, full body covering, a decontamination procedure and an initial
O2 test are always required.
Any time filtered respirators are used, we must insure sufficient O2 is
present. All HAZMAT teams, as well as many public utilities will
have O2 monitoring equipment. Once we determine O2 in sufficient
quantities is present, we will protect our bodies with full covering, such
as dispopsable Tyvek or similiar suits. Disposable in nature, these
may then minimize the need for decontamination. Finally, any areas
where these materials are present mut be entered with HEPA filtered respirators,
properly fitted and sized. Fit tests are required. Respirators must
not be removed in any Hazard area. HEPA filtered respirators (NRP-100
certified) are not the white dust masks seen in many hardware stores.
These masks give NO protection against the toxins discussed.
release and explosions release the above solid materials in a wide pattern.
ANY evaluation of the above NON TYPICAL need for protective equipment may
be performed by an industrial hygienist or safety professional. The
Phoenix Fire Department, for example, employees such an individual.
The IAFF Safety Office in Washington, D.C. employs such an individual.
Most fire and police departments, however, have not thought of how to access
this type person. Your local health agency (Health Department) is
a good starting point for an emergency activition of this service.
On site evaluation is not always necessary, but technical decision making
is normally required.
While I think
back over the events of the week, and remember the pictures , I see many
heroic individuals in action. I am not sure, however, (and I am not
privy to the information) if the R and R response was performed after O2
testing and with HEPA filtered respiratory protection equipment. I do
not recall decontamination stations, although I do recall Mayor Gulliani
identifying that Health Department hygenists were on site performing asbestos
in air tests, and subsequently protecting R and R workers in this manner
(He did identify that tests identified Asbestos was not a concern).
Responders Health may be negatively impacted (EXCESS CANCER RISK) in the
event these procedure are not followed.
systems for the decision making identified in this technical assistance
article should be set up prior to emergency needs, such as through the
Health Department, CHEMTREC, or department hygienists or safety officers.
and technical assistance can be acquired by contacting Joe