Asbestos fire survival guide

asbestos ramat gan

An important business community in Bnei Brak (Ramat Gan) outside of Tel Aviv has been made toxic by an asbestos fire that broke out last Wednesday. The asbestos fire, which ended up smouldering for days, took place in a one-story building with an asbestos roof that was used to store tires, clothing and electric bicycles.

Strong wind caused the fire to spread. The bigger problem is that it was next to two very populated towers.

The area was in one of Israel’s largest industrial zones. People were told to stay away from BSR Towers next to the blaze. The BSR Towers are a complex of three towers, two built on opposite sides of Derech Ben Gurion road dividing the cities of Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv.

But people who work at the towers are confused as to what they should do. Some were told to return to work.

The two BSR Towers each 24 and 27 story towers respectively were built in 2004, a time when building with asbestos was illegal. But they were constructed next to a large warehouse which was full of the stuff.

The BSR buildings or the Alon Towers are offices and workplaces to many including *Nava who refuses to go back to work for fear of asbestos fibers, she tells Green Prophet.

The fire has released toxic asbestos fumes and particles in the air. Nava believes that “People are not taking this seriously it seems,” she tells Green Prophet.

“[One] day after [the] fire, I walked nearby fire area, which was closed off,” Nava reports. “A few young soldiers explained that there was a fire with poison in air. I asked about the BSR building and took another route there. Arcaffe was closed. A kiosk was open. What happened? I asked.

“Evacuation, said the kiosk owner. I walked into BSR 3 and was told by a security guard to get out as the building had been evacuated earlier.

“But the security guards stay, without protection,” Nava, who is from Tel Aviv, says.

She writes to me: “If you go you may see some folks with SARS masks in their pocket. The security people there are quite pleased to talk. I was told [by my boss that] Monday it was work as usual. I do not know who showed up. I do not want my picture out there nor my name. I tried to talk to co workers about dangers but I walked out alone Sunday at 1pm.

“Meanwhile I have written Ministry of Environment officials and so far received no response,” she tells me.

The World Health Organization says that no exposure to asbestos is okay for humans. According to some sources it is most dangerous when it is burning, as asbestos vapors easily seep into the air supply and can be breathed in by unsuspecting victims.

Asbestos is invisible and it is odorless. The cancer that it causes does not show up for 15 or 20 years or more after exposure making it difficult to pinpoint exposure.

It is found everywhere throughout Israel.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection urged that anyone within 50 meters of the fire were at risk for inhaling toxic asbestos particles and urged them to stay away until the clean up is complete.

Other precautions for those that lived close to 6 Hayarkon Street in Bnei Brak was to keep their windows shut and their air conditioners off to avoid inhaling cancer-causing asbestos fibres.

It’s hard to imagine that in the case of strong winds that the seclusion zone still remains at only 50 meters or about 55 yards. Other measures, according to the ministry should be taken:

Surviving an asbestos fire:

Avoid remaining outdoors, or in buildings that are partially open such as garages, for long periods of time.

Do not open windows of your building that face the fire site. Do not operate air conditioners that take in external air from the ground level.

If you notice that windows facing the site were open, or that an air conditioner taking in external air from the ground level is operating, wipe the surfaces (windows, shelves, floor) with a wet rag, then double bag the rag and throw it out.

If there is an odor of fire in your building, the following populations should evacuate the floor: pregnant women, asthma sufferers, those with cardiovascular problems, and those with other breathing problems.

Any further questions can be addressed to the Ministry’s Tel Aviv District office: 03-763-4444.

I have to say cynically – good luck with that. I’ve seen my kids playing with chunks of asbestos in public parks in Jaffa. The stuff is everywhere in Israel, including on the roofs of kindergartens and on government buildings.

The neighboring office of my house leased by the charity Yad Sarah is roofed in asbestos. Appeals made by myself to the organization’s president and spokesperson have been fruitless. They say it is not their problem. The roof faces my kids’ bedroom. Am I afraid for them? Very much.

Who pays when the next generation gets cancer?

In Tel Aviv, and Israel, and the Middle East asbestos is everywhere. The city of Nahariya is particularly at risk for mesothelioma the special kind of lung cancer that asbestos exposure causes.

Earlier in March an Israeli Defence Ministry building went up in flames. It was also housed in asbestos but no one mentioned the dangers back then.

I can also imagine all the unnamed fires in the region that carry an asbestos exposure threat.

The only safe building is a building with no asbestos. Let this hard lesson be one that we don’t need to learn again.

*Name changed

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