Agencies warn about health risks post-fire

Agencies warn about health risks post-fire

03 August 2018

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USA – LAKE COUNTY >> Lake County works to make the community aware of potential toxic substances that could be in the environment as the Mendocino Complex fire continues.

Debris and ash from residential and other structural fires may contain toxic substances due to the presence of synthetic and hazardous materials and many building materials can contain asbestos or lead.

Household hazardous waste such as gasoline, cleaning products, pesticides, and other chemicals may have been stored in homes, garages, or sheds that may have burned in the fire. These materials can become concentrated in ash and soil following a fire and it is important not to be exposed to these materials.

Exposures can occur by sifting through and/or moving ash and debris, causing ash to become airborne and inhaled or ingested. Lake County is working to secure assistance from state agencies to ensure proper handling and disposal of debris and ash from the fire.

To protect the health of the community, property owners are strongly recommended to not begin cleanup activities at this time. In addition the Local Landfill is not currently prepared to accept fire debris.

Lake County is also working with state agencies to safely collect and dispose of household hazardous waste products from burned buildings. Because ash and debris generated in the fire may be considered hazardous waste, Lake County said to not transport ash or debris to landfills and transfer stations at this time. It is recommended that debris and ash from burned structures remain undisturbed until further instructions are issued.

The ash deposited by forest fires is relatively nontoxic and similar to ash that might be found in your fireplace. However, any ash will contain small amounts of cancer-causing chemicals.

Fire ash may be irritating to the skin, especially to those with sensitive skin. If the ash is breathed, it can be irritating to the nose and throat and may cause coughing. Exposure to ash in air might trigger asthmatic attacks in people who already have asthma.

To avoid possible health problems the following is recommended, the county recommends to not allow children to play in the ash, avoid washing ash into storm drains whenever possible, wash ash off children’s toys before children play with them,clean ash off house pets, wear gloves, long sleeved shirts, and long pants and avoid skin contact, if you do get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible and avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible.

A well fitting dust mask may provide some protection during cleanup. A mask rated N-95 or P-100 will be more effective than simpler dust or surgical masks in blocking particles from ash. Many ash particles are larger than those found in smoke; thus, wearing a dust mask can significantly reduce (but not completely eliminate) the amount of particles inhaled.

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