Industry News

Wildfires and asbestos

… And Summer, Bless Her Heart, Brings Wildfire Danger

Ah, Summer.  She’s finally here, in all her radiant splendor.  We’ve looked forward to her arrival all year, particularly when we were trying to drive our mud-spattered vehicles around the icy and un-plowed Denver-area streets and wondering when winter would EVER end.

(For many of us, this yearning for the return of summer began sometime around November 17th.)

But alas, you ask, what is that subtle little shadow lurking behind Summer’s sweet, coquettish smile?  I’m sure you can guess, but I’ll tell you anyway: It’s fire.

Summer brings pool parties, fireworks, barbecues, Super Soaker fights, watermelon, ice-free driving, and all kinds of marvelous delights when she arrives here in Colorado (once she finally gets here after hanging out in less-deserving places, such as Texas).

But hidden behind Summer’s alluring veil are also a few bad things.  Well, just two that I can think of right now: Joggers, and forest wildfires.

Joggers suck, because they’re everywhere, and you see them jogging in place on street corners, waiting for you to turn right and get out of THEIR way, and wearing those ridiculous jogging outfits, not to mention those self-satisfied smirks of smugness (say THAT ten times fast) that indicate they think they’re all that.

But summer wildfires are even way WORSE than joggers.  Before they’re doused, wildfires destroy property and adorable forest critters and occasionally people, which is bad enough.  But the death threat posed by wildfires actually lingers AFTER the smoke clears… almost like Summer in El Paso.

That’s because much of those structures the wildfire destroyed were composed of asbestos-containing building materials (insulation, wall boards, flooring, etc.), which weren’t dangerous while they were intact, but are now VERY dangerous since the asbestos is now floating around in the air.

Okay, Fires Release Asbestos.  So What?

SO WHAT?  Oh, I get it.  You’re new here.  Well, let me tell you the “so whats” of airborne asbestos:

  • First, asbestos is basically a rock, and when it’s undisturbed, just lying around there in the linoleum flooring at your mountain cabin, it’s no threat.  But when that linoleum goes up in smoke, that smoke contains – you guessed it – asbestos.


  • You might think (since you’re new here) that all you have to do is avoid contact with the smoke you see, and everything’s cool.  But everything is NOT cool, my friend.  To begin with, if you’ve lived in Denver during wildfire season, you know you can’t avoid the smoky air.


  • But asbestos, once disturbed by a wildfire (or any other disturbance) is microscopic.  You can’t see it, and it also has no odor, so you can’t smell it.  In other words, you can’t tell it’s coming to get you.


  • You might think this is no big deal.  But if you inhale enough microscopic shards of asbestos, they can impale themselves in your lungs, tear up said lungs, and cause you to develop asbestosis or mesothelioma, which are illnesses you can’t recover from.

That’s “so what.”

But I Thought They’d Banned Asbestos!

Yes, you did think that.  So did many other people.  And asbestos was actually banned in the U.S. for about a hot minute, several decades ago.

But the sad fact is that asbestos is completely legal in America today, and tons and tons of the ugly stuff are imported every year in the form of everything from the aforementioned building materials to baby powder to faux jewelry.

You’re not allowed to manufacture things in America which contain asbestos, but you can import the stuff all the live-long day.  So, since it’s cheaper to import asbestos-containing things made in other countries than to make those things here (using safe alternatives), well, you do that.

(Not you personally, maybe, but in general, this is what’s happening.)

So you might not think your burned-up cabin contained asbestos, which is now floating around looking for innocent lungs to shred… but if it was built before 1980, chances are, it was loaded with the stuff.

As wildfire season ramps up in Colorado, be on the lookout for asbestos.  If your place is near the site of a fire, it’s best to have your air and surfaces professionally tested, and if contaminated, to have your property abated.  It costs less than many people think.  And while you’ll undoubtedly survive the bill for asbestos clean-up, you would not make it through a mesothelioma lung-cancer attack.  So be aware!