Asbestos tiles at a police station in Birmingham have caused the station to close and two officers to be admitted to the hospital. The north precinct—the oldest building in the Police Department dating back over 40 years—officially closed late on Wednesday night.
“We’re definitely concerned about the health and safety of all our officers that work in this facility,” said Lieutenant Sean Edwards. “The era the tile was constructed, there’s a 70% chance this tile might have had asbestos ingredients.”
In the U.S., over 700,000 schools and buildings contain asbestos insulation as reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s most often found in shipyards, manufacturing and railway facilities, and construction sites.
The two officers were on crews pulling up carpeting from the offices of two supervisors when they discovered the eroding floor tiles beneath. The chemicals they used made the two officers sick.
“There was strong smell…strong aroma here. As you can tell, this facility is kind of closed in so I’m sure the fumes were still sitting inside of the place and that’s what caused the issue,” said Edwards.
Even if asbestos exposure is believed to be short-term, there are still possible health risks, including mesothelioma and other deadly diseases. Police officers are part of a growing list of occupations at risk of asbestos exposure. If left alone, the material is less hazardous, but if it’s altered or damaged, then that can be problematic as the dust is released into the air and inhaled over time.
More specifically, as the fibers in the dust are inhaled through the mouth and nose, they are cleared from the body by adhering to mucus in the nose, throat, and airways, and then get expelled by coughing or swallowing.
The long and thin asbestos fibers do not clear as easily, and are therefore thought to become embedded in the linings of the lungs, chest, or stomach, causing scarring and inflammation, which leads to mesothelioma cancer
After the police officers’ hospitalization, the Birmingham Police Department opted to have professional crews remove the tiles. The department plans to have the tiles tested for asbestos.
In the meantime, someone posted an “Asbestos Danger—Might Cause Cancer” sign on the front door without asking for approval. “And also, someone took it upon themselves to put some crime scene tape on the front door and that was not authorized,” said Edwards.
“We want to make sure we have an environment safe for them to work in,” stated Edwards. The possibility of a new building is being explored as the next step.