A firefighter from Birmingham, Alabama, recently filed a lawsuit against the city. He alleges that the fire station is making firefighters sick due to exposure to a variety of hazards, including mold, fumes and asbestos.
Asbestos may be of particular concern because researchers have linked this toxic substance to life-threatening illnesses, such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. Although it is a naturally-occurring mineral, asbestos can present a very serious health risk when people inhale its partials.
Some building materials contain asbestos
Birmingham’s Fire Station 27 was built in 1956. During this time period, builders commonly used materials that contained asbestos. It was a prized component in construction materials because it is fire-resistant, does not conduct electricity and can provide insulation.
Starting in the 1970s, governmental agencies began banning asbestos products. However, in many cases, nothing was done to properly get rid of the asbestos already in use in older buildings.
The city closed Station 27 for testing
Starting in June, Birmingham city officials relocated the station’s firefighters and temporarily closed Station 27 so an environmental services company could test the conditions. The company discovered that some of the station’s building materials do contain asbestos, but that these materials were not significantly affecting the indoor air quality at that time.
Following this news, city officials had crews make some repairs to the station, and a thorough cleaning of the space was supposed to be scheduled. In December, city officials considered the building safe and reopened it. However, one of the station’s firefighters alleges that the building has made him and other firefighters sick and that the city is continuing to risk the safety of its firefighters.
Contaminated fire stations may be more common than people realize
Station 27 is not the only fire station in the country to contain asbestos, and the firefighters who work there are not the only firefighters concerned about the working conditions at their station. In recent years, similar situations have occurred in Atlanta, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Chicago, Illinois.
When this type of situation happens, it may be difficult to immediately tell what damage has occurred. This is because it can take decades for asbestos-related diseases, like mesothelioma to develop.
If an asbestos-related disease does develop, it can also be difficult to pinpoint what caused the asbestos exposure. This may be especially true for firefighters who may encounter asbestos in burning buildings and other potential sources on or off duty.
In the case of Birmingham’s Fire Station 27, it may be too early to tell what the legal outcomes may be. However, it may be helpful for firefighters to remember that they have options if they get sick. If someone’s negligent actions cause someone else to become ill, it may be reasonable to hold that person accountable.