In Pocatello, Idaho, near the southeast corner of the state, a facility providing child day care services for about 140 youngsters in the basement of United Methodist Church closed temporarily over the weekend to allow air quality tests for asbestos to be conducted after a fire nearly demolished the church chapel.
Tender Loving Care Child Care, which offers daily supervision, hot meals, transportation and accredited teaching for children 18 months to 12 years, was forced to suspend services after the Sept. 27 fire, caused by a ceremonial candle presumably falling into a guitar case, caused extensive damage to the church itself and considerable water damage to the ceiling above the day care center below. The church and day care center is located at 15th Avenue and Clark Street. The fire reportedly started just after noon on Sunday, Sept. 27.
According to Pocatello Fire Department officials, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was subsequently contacted, and recommended air sampling to determine if asbestos was released during the fire from what firemen observed were apparently asbestos-wrapped pipes in the floor-to-ceiling space revealed by the fire.
Sue Skinner, a regional EPA environmental protection specialist, added that a certified asbestos remediation contractor was called in to monitor air quality and take samples of the material to determine if it did, in fact, contain asbestos.
As Skinner noted, all mandatory procedures were followed, including those outlined under the EPA’s Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, or AHERA, which governs how asbestos is handled, recorded and monitored in all U.S. schools. Tender Loving Care Child Care qualifies as an AHERA-regulated entity under Idaho law because it provides certified teaching and serves children who would otherwise be in grade school.
While the damage to the church was extensive, damage inside the day care center was isolated to a single room, according to the Rev. Craig Strobel, who added that the church will continue to use administrative offices.
Fortunately, air quality tests completed earlier than expected (the originally scheduled date was Oct. 2) showed no airborne asbestos, so children returned to day care on Monday, Sept. 28, with a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. to answer parents’ questions about the fire and subsequent asbestos concern.
In the interim, the damaged day care room was sealed off and provided with negative-air handling equipment, while a temporary barrier restricts access from an adjacent hallway.
According to Pocatello Fire Chief Mike Williams, who said tests showed the sampled material contained 20 percent asbestos by volume, it may be possible simply to wrap the asbestos-containing material, though the final decision – on wrapping versus removal – will be up to the regional EPA office. Fortunately, the asbestos was not damaged by fire, merely saturated with water.
Asbestos, a fibrous mineral widely used in insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, and other construction materials during most of the last century, can – when inhaled or ingested – lead to mesothelioma, a relatively rare but often fatal cancer of mesothelial tissues.
Occurring most commonly as pleural mesothelioma (in the lungs), though pericardial mesothelioma (around the heart), or peritoneal mesothelioma (in the abdomen) can also arise, this kind of cancer commonly lies dormant for decades, until the symptoms are so severe patients seek medical help.
Unfortunately, the long lag time between development of the tumor and diagnosis leads to very poor prognoses, and most patients are given between a year and 18 months to live. In about 10 percent of cases, the cancer is caught early and patients may live up to five years with aggressive therapies that include surgery and chemotherapy with one or more medicines.
The most dangerous aspect of asbestos is that it requires no more than a single fiber to induce the irritation that can lead to such cancers, and all the agencies involved in monitoring asbestos diseases (OSHA, the CDC, and the American Cancer Society) agree that a day or a lifetime can trigger mesothelioma.
Sources: Idaho State Journal