Tustin Hangar Fire Blamed for Spreading Asbestos Is Finally Out

Asbestos Exposure & Bans

A fire at a World War II era 17-story wooden hangar in the U.S. Navy’s Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California, was finally extinguished 24 days after it started. Firefighters put out the flames the same day the fire began on Nov. 7, but flare-ups continued for several weeks. 

During that time, flames propelled dangerous chemicals such as asbestos, nickel and arsenic into the surrounding areas. The discovery of the chemicals also created a local state of emergency, canceling school, nearby outdoor events and closing parks.

The U.S. Navy now needs to remove all of the debris left at the site. Fire cleanup crews are also using a product called “Gorilla-Snot.” The sticky biodegradable liquid is applied to the ground to stabilize the soil and provide dust control, sealing the area and ensuring the chemicals don’t become airborne.

In a recent news release Tustin city officials called for “Navy accountability.” The U.S. Navy says it will support the ongoing cleanup process beyond the initial one million dollars given to the city soon after the fire started. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Tustin Mayor Austin Lumbard says the city needs funding from state and federal agencies to help with the recovery process. He also told KTLA: “The residents and businesses in the area who have been impacted by this fire now need the full accountability of the Navy and the support of the Governor’s Office and FEMA to help our City and our community financially recover.”

Fire Debris Tests Positive for Asbestos

People who live near the hangar are worried after tests show debris from the fire tested positive for asbestos. The debris was found at schools and homes within a 3-mile radius of the hangar. 

Homeowner Deniz Erkan told NBC4 that he picked up about a pound of debris from his property while wearing a respirator and gloves. Erkan lives across the street from the hangar. 

“My wife and our two small children, they’re three and seven,” he said. “We woke up that morning with just congestion and coughing. I had a headache. The headache didn’t go away for a couple of days.”

Erkan’s family stayed at an Airbnb that cost almost $3,000. After returning home Erkan then paid another $2,000 so a remediation company could test the inside of his home. 

“And they did show asbestos in some areas of my property,” he said. “And so now we are trying to research on our own what that means, because the guidance we got from the government was if you’re concerned, do your own testing, and essentially, you’re on your own.”

Asbestos Exposure Risks

The Tustin hangar fire is an example of how dangerous asbestos fibers can spread far and wide during a fire. Since asbestos is commonly found in many older buildings, every fire can pose an immediate and future health threat. After becoming airborne asbestos fibers can become inhaled or swallowed and then lodged inside of the body. Decades later, the fibers can damage cells and cause inflammation that can lead to mesothelioma

Since the naked eye cannot see microscopic asbestos fibers, fire victims should avoid sifting through debris or searching for items without taking precautions. Anyone who comes in close contact with debris after a fire should wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved half-face respirator. You should also use an air monitor and have a professional inspector test the area for asbestos. 

Naval bases and shipyards across the country like the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, pose a higher risk of asbestos exposure. That’s because asbestos was widely used in large quantities when building naval vessels. Asbestos was popular because it resists high temperatures and corrosion. 

U.S. Navy veterans are also at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. U.S. military occupations with a higher risk of asbestos exposure include mechanics, construction, boiler workers and firefighters. Veterans who may have been exposed to asbestos while serving our country can file a VA claim to receive benefits.

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