Coventry Building Burns, Causing Asbestos Exposure to Firefighters

Illustration of potential asbestos exposure in a building

An asbestos-containing industrial building in Coventry set fire last week, causing firefighters to be exposed to the harmful substance.

Coventry has a longstanding history of asbestos due to its industrialization in the 19th century. Because of this exposure to asbestos in the workplace in Coventry, mesothelioma cancer has been problematic.

Lamb commented, “We could actually see fire in the sky, the building was completely involved when we arrived. Our firefighters stayed out of the building. Obviously there was nobody in the building at the time. It’s a commercial building,” said Central Coventry Fire Chief, Peter Lamb.

The fire was contained within 30 minutes, but the building was made of a car storage company, landscaping business, and an asbestos removal company.

“We had some material that contains asbestos, part of the asbestos removal company, so obviously that’s concern to firefighters.” said Lamb. The material was placed in bags by the removal company.

The huge dumpster by the building was full of these bags and caught fire as well. As soon as the firefighters realized the dumpsters contained asbestos, they stopped spraying water so contaminated runoff wouldn’t occur, and instead let it burn.

“Asbestos is generally not airborne. The only thing that would make it airborne is the fire, per say, so it’s contained to the dumpster. We’re relatively confident that’s okay,” said Lamb.

Coincidentally, the material was widely used for its immense heat-resistant properties, but it can be even more dangerous with fire, and pose an even greater risk to human health.

Insulation, roof materials, drywall, ceiling tiles, flooring, and asphalt are all materials commonly known to contain asbestos. When they’re ignited with fire, the smoke made of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter, hydrocarbons, and other organic and non-organic substances can include the minute asbestos fibers.

Debris should always be taken away from a fire site, but it must first be thoroughly tested for the presence of asbestos before the removal can begin.

Although Rhode Island is not widely known for its participation in the asbestos industry, exposure was likely the result of the asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) and used in many building supplies and incorporated into the construction of the state’s many older and historic buildings.

There is a deposit of serpentine (the source of common white asbestos) located near Diamond Hill. Plus, Rhode Island was the birthplace of the Industrial Age in North America and there are still five power generation plants and a number of major port facilities, which run a great risk to employees of developing work-related asbestos disease.

Officials say the surrounding air and water near the half-burned down Coventry building is safe.