NILES – Because a firefighter’s training includes instruction on the identification, handling, and disposal of a number of hazardous materials, Niles firemen were quick to identify an extremely hazardous material, asbestos-a known cancer-causing agent-that was contained in some old floor tiles that had been removed from an area in the firehouse earlier this month. The tiles had been disturbed by Niles Public Works crews who had been performing renovations at the No. 2 firehouse at Cumberland Avenue and Dempster Street. Allegedly, workers at the firehouse had removed some worn carpet from an area in the basement of the building; below the carpeting workers discovered a layer of tile, some of which had been removed by workers who used hammers to break up the brittle flooring-an action that may have caused asbestos fibers to be released into the air.
When firefighters noticed a 30 gallon trash container that had been filled with the old tiles, a closer inspection of the debris caused the men to suspect that the flooring contained asbestos. Fire Chief Barry Mueller was immediately contacted, and shortly thereafter, Mueller confirmed the presence of asbestos in the asphalt-based tiles. Mueller called for an immediate halt to the basement renovations and ordered a complete evacuation of the building.
A naturally occurring mineral that may be found in the soil or in exposed outcroppings, asbestos exists in abundance in numerous countries around the world. Asbestos can be found in several colors, types or chemical compositions, and the material was once widely used by a broad spectrum of industries. From brake pads to building materials, asbestos is a ubiquitous substance that can still be found in multiple products and/or older structures in every community in America.
In the 1970s, after decades of scientific and medical research, experts agreed that all forms of asbestos pose a significant risk to human health. Now largely banned in many countries around the globe, asbestos is dangerous when fractured or disturbed, actions that release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. Once inhaled into the lungs, the fibers will almost always become permanently lodged in soft tissues where they can remain for up to 50 years before causing the onset of serious respiratory diseases.
The most feared of the asbestos-caused illnesses is a particularly aggressive, incurable, and inevitably fatal form of cancer known as pleural mesothelioma. Because of the dire health risks associated with friable (crushable) asbestos, the Niles firefighters were fortunate to alert to the presence of the extremely hazardous material and then take appropriate action.
Once the work in the basement had been halted, the building evacuated, and the work area sealed, asbestos abatement experts from Axis Response Group (ARG), an environmental testing firm, used large fans to disturb the air in all areas of the potentially contaminated firehouse, an action that would be certain to cause any residual asbestos fibers to be introduced into the air where special meters can detect them. Once the fans had been turned off, ARG personnel collected air samples from every room and open area within the fire house over a four hour period of time. Subsequent analyses of these samples indicated no evidence of asbestos contamination, and the Niles firefighters were allowed to reenter and occupy the building.
One mystery remains, however. It seems the 30 gallon trash container that held the old floor tiles had vanished from the building. No one is sure who removed the trash container or where the contaminated floor tiles had been disposed of. Chief Mueller and Assistant Village Manager, Steve Vinezeano, said, as far as they were concerned, no threat to human health had existed and the matter was officially closed.