Some problems may seem too large for just one person to tackle. Yet, we often find stories to remind us that the biggest fixes all must start somewhere. One recent story out of San Diego reminds us this is still true today, especially for those concerned about harmful asbestos exposure.
San Diego’s NBC 7 recently reported that the city could face up to $80 million in fines related to asbestos and lead exposure. That report also noted that the only reason the city may face those fines is because one concerned citizen contacted the county’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD) after watching a report about asbestos on the news.
What was the problem?
According to the report, the city had long ignored or minimized the risks of asbestos and lead exposure from its firefighter training facilities. The facilities had been converted from naval buildings 20 years earlier. The report claimed the city knew about traces of asbestos and lead in the buildings but had failed to disclose that information. The city disputes the claim, but the APCD investigation found dangerous levels of asbestos and lead in the facilities.
The presence of asbestos and lead in the facilities put the city’s firefighters at risk as they trained. This training meant setting fires and putting them out, and the EPA specifically notes that it considers these fires to be demolitions. Accordingly, the city should have had a duty to test the property for asbestos and prevent it from getting into the air.
Instead, if the allegations are true, the firefighters training in the facilities were unknowingly releasing asbestos into the air. Those fibers could then get into their lungs or onto their skin. Asbestos fibers are known carcinogens, responsible for diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Due to the nature of their work, firefighters and other first responders have long faced above average risk for these diseases.
What happens next?
As noted earlier, the city disputes the claims. However, if the claims hold up, the city may have to pay 160 days’ worth of fines. Those fines could range from $10,000 a day to $500,000 a day if a court finds the city had acted recklessly.
Meanwhile, NBC 7 noted that more than 1,000 firefighters had trained in the facilities. Their work may have exposed them to asbestos and a higher risk of cancer. It was unclear if sick firefighters might recover any compensation from the city’s potential fines. However, the proof of asbestos exposure may help those firefighters better identify the signs of disease earlier. It may also help them find and file for other resources to pay for any necessary treatment.
Finally, the district employee who contacted the APCD can take some comfort knowing the action paid off. The contact led to the APCD investigation. The APCD investigation led to meaningful findings, and the city has since responded by closing off the buildings and floors that contained asbestos.