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Submitted by on 1, April 15, 2009 – 6:00 am7 Comments

82City officials are admitting there is asbestos and lead in the ash scattered halfway across the Island by that March 29 fire on former Navy land, but they are saying that neither the ash nor the heavy smoke from the fire poses a health hazard.

“As is typical with building fires, some ash and burned debris was carried away from the burning building and settled back to the ground downwind of the fire. According to the City’s environmental consultant, this material does not pose a health hazard,” according to a city press release issued Tuesday night that lists Fire Marshal Michael Fisher as a contact.

The city has set up a web link that answers questions about the ash, including how to clean it up. They’re also saying that staff from the public works department will be available to clean up ash for the next two weeks. The site also has links to information on asbestos and lead.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which took an air sample inside the burning building on the day of the fire, released the results Tuesday. (I couldn’t open the file, so more on that later.)

The city’s site says that “a few pieces of ash or burned debris fell on some downwind properties.” But The Island and other media outlets have gotten several reports (I got one report of ash as far away as Pearl and Otis, in the East End).

Some residents and the firefighters themselves have criticized the handling of the fire and it aftermath, saying the city failed to properly handle notification of residents downwind of the fire of a shelter-in-place advisory the city issued and also potential hazards associated with ashes from the fire.

Jeff DelBono, spokesman for the local firefighters union, said he doesn’t think the city’s press release adequately addresses concerns about the fire. And he said the union is still concerned about firefighters and residents exposed to smoke and debris from the fire.

“We feel that these answers should have come much sooner to the citizens and our association,” DelBono said.

The city’s website offers this cleanup advice:

Drape a moistened paper towel over the piece of ash. Gently pick up the paper towel with the piece of ash contained in it. Dispose of the ash wrapped in the paper towel in your refuse container for collection with the rest of your trash.

If you would like to take extra precautions while disposing of ash, there are simple things you can do. The easiest measures are to wear gloves and a dust mask. Disposable latex and nitrile gloves are available at hardware stores, as are dust masks, such as those used for sanding and other shop activities. Two-strap dust masks with a nose clip provide greater protection. A mask rated N95 or P100 blocks particles from ash better than simpler dust or surgical masks. Disposable gloves and masks can be discarded in your trash container with the paper towel and ash.

It also says that anyone who wants the city to handle the cleanup can call public works at 747-7900. You can also address questions to Fisher, the fire marshal, at 337-2122.

The city is still investigating the cause of the fire, which burned for nearly a day and cast a thick pall of smoke over a goodly portion of the Island east of the former Naval medical records depot. The city is preparing to demolish the remains of the building, which had been slated to be torn down to make way for a potential mixed-use development there.


  • David Howard says:

    I’m pretty sure an N95 or P100 mask WON’T block asbestos fibers, which is what the chief concern is.

  • David Howard says:

    My memory is admittedly fuzzy… it was a while back that I looked into this myself. Just searching this morning, I found P95 rated dust masks online that expressly say they are not good for asbestos, but I did also find P95 filters and P100 respirators that say they are rated for asbestos.

    eg: P95 not rated for asbestos

    3M Model 8577, P95 Particle Respirator


    Do Not Use For:
    Gases, asbestos, arsenic, cadmium, lead, 4,4′-methylenedianiline (MDA) or sandblasting.

    The point is that anyone buying a filter needs to be pretty darn sure the mask/filter is indeed rated for asbestos. The asbestos masks/filters are more expensive and more serious than the little paper masks that one uses when sanding down that old hutch in the garage.

    The more serious concern is not so much about collecting debris now, but why the City didn’t act more responsibly on the day of the fire, issuing a shelter-in-place warning. How much asbestos was flying around in the air on that day, when none of us had any mask of any kind, or any warning?

    The chief purpose of municipal government is to protect residents/citizens and deliver services to them, and time and time again – this one being the latest example – our City government is failing us.

  • Mike G says:

    IF the Fire Department is telling you to wear a mask and gloves to clean up the pieces of debris in your yard, that should be a big Alert that this material is dangerous. But what they are not talking about is the small pieces that are not as readily visible. When I took a closer look at my kids toys,that were in the yard, they were covered in a fine dust and you have to know that dust went everywhere. And even today, the 18th of April, I am still finding and seeing this debris in my yard as well as on the sidewalks and street gutters.
    The Bay Area Air Quality District was not able to test the air during the fire, due to the high particulate matter in the air. But don’t worry about that small dust and particulate matter, the “IN HOUSE” consultant for the city says it’s all OK and safe, even for small children…

  • Joe says:

    Would you think for a New York minute that the city representatives would say anything but it is “safe.” Any admission is an admission of liability. The city has allowed an abandoned piece of property to be occupied by transients, kids and vandals. In addition to the asbestos, think of the tons of lead that was vaporized in the fire. The truth would come out if someone uncovers the demolition costs that will show mitigation estimates for asbestos and lead. At the end of the day, the abandoned hospital was left alone because it was a big ticket item to knock it down – same for the chemical wastes in the soil at the ANAS.

    The first property owner who contract with an independent lab to test dust composition in his/her backyard and find asbestos linked to the hospital will create a tsunami of claims against the city. The insurance companies will have a field day.

  • Health information is great and so useful for everyone. Thanks for the information.

  • Liz Williams says:

    A homeowner did have a piece of debris tested. It contained asbestos. Also, the Air Quality report showed toxic levels – up to 100x what you’d breathe in the Caldecott tunnel at rush hour – of several chemicals associated with burning fuel. It’s all on MY website.

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