A fire at a former Connecticut paper mill was put out earlier this week, but some of the findings amidst the ashes, have raised potential health concerns for area residents. The early-morning fire started at the Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation factory in the town of Torrington. The fire at the facility was so extensive that numerous area roads had to be sealed off and residents in nearby homes had to be evacuated.
Although the factory is no longer active, a local firm, Daley Moving and Storage, still uses the building as a storage warehouse. The company’s owners were out of town on vacation when the fire broke out, but they said that they planned on coming back to inspect the damage. One witness claimed to have seen the roof on the complex’s central building collapse during the blaze.
Investigators from Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection tested air samples a few hours after the fire. They found asbestos particles in three of the six samples they tested. Although long-term exposure to asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer, state environmental officials stated that the brief exposure periods during and after the fire did not constitute a serious health risk to the firefighters or to residents of the neighboring areas.
Also, investigators said, the asbestos on the site was stored in an encapsulated form. In this form, the dangerous fibers were chemically bound to the construction material. When encapsulated asbestos burns, the smoke and fumes from it would not pose the same danger as exposure to loose fibers would.
One of the area residents, Chuck Martin, expressed concern about the asbestos exposure. As a contractor who has worked inside the facility’s older buildings, he stated that all of the structures on the site contained asbestos. Mr. Martin also spoke of his wife, who has respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis, and how she had to stay inside their house all day due to the smoke and fumes from the fire.
Several reports had the fire becoming so vast that it went to four alarms. Numerous off-duty Torrington firefighters were called in to put out the blaze, as well as volunteers from nearby towns of Litchfield, Harwinton and Thomaston. Torrington Fire Chief John Field said that the fire burned so hot that vinyl siding on nearby homes melted off the exterior walls. He also credited his firefighters for keeping the blaze under control. The factory complex held six buildings in all, but the quick response from local departments kept the fire limited to the central structure.
The first alarm on the fire was reported at 5 a.m., but it grew to four alarms within three hours. Firefighters brought the blaze under control just after 9 a.m. and had it completely extinguished by 2 p.m. More than fifty firefighters were called in to put out the inferno, with one taken to the hospital to recover from oxygen deprivation, one treated briefly for a sprained joint and three others treated for heat exhaustion. State and local arson investigators are examining the cause of the blaze.
Sources: WFSB, Hartford Courant