While cleanup efforts throughout the United States have removed a significant amount of asbestos, the deadly fibers once commonly found in supposedly safe roofing and insulation still exist. Discoveries of new dangers occur under various circumstances and practically on a daily basis.
An April 10 explosion caused by a gas leak in Durham, North Carolina, resulted in one such discovery. The aftermath saw two people dead, 24 others injured, and multiple North Duke Street businesses destroyed. Looking for answers as to the cause of the tragedy, search-and-rescue teams sifted through the rubble for several days.
However, their immediate Herculean efforts may carry serious, long-term consequences. According to public health officials, tests on debris uncovered the presence of asbestos, most likely from construction materials when the structure was built.
Prior to removal of the debris, air-quality monitors were installed throughout the area that closed since the explosion. Rubble piles were also sprayed with water to minimize the release of asbestos fibers into the air. Those steps were taken to reduce, if not eliminate the possibility of fibers breathed into the lungs where they could be trapped and potentially cause scarring and inflammation.
The NC Division of Public Health does not believe that anyone suffered exposure to asbestos, and any risk to the public was minimal. However, that does not remove the possibility that brave first responders who put themselves on the front line may have also placed themselves at risk of serious diseases.
In the end, symptoms of asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma do not manifest for up to 20 years. The story of the North Duke Street explosion may not be over for some who were only looking to help those initially in need.