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Information for members of the public related to the gas explosion event on April 10, 2019

Post Date:05/02/2019 3:30 PM

DURHAM, N.C.  – The North Carolina (NC) Division of Public Health, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, has provided health information for members of the public who may have questions about potential exposure to asbestos-containing materials related to the gas explosion event in Durham, NC, on April 10, 2019.


What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to six minerals that occur naturally as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals, and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used in over three thousand building materials. Although usage has declined, it is still found in many older buildings. Asbestos is also found in the natural environment.


How is asbestos used?

Asbestos has been used in many industries. The building and construction industries have used it for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes. The automotive industry uses asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. Asbestos has also been used in ceiling and floor tiles; paints, coatings, and adhesives; and plastics.


How are people generally exposed to asbestos?

People may be exposed to asbestos in their workplace, their communities, or their homes. If products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.


How were members of the public potentially exposed to asbestos during the Durham explosion?

Some members of the public, as well as first responders, were in close proximity to the building when and where the blast occurred.


What evidence does the NC Division of Public Health have about potential asbestos exposure during the explosion?

The NC Division of Public Health collected samples for asbestos testing at the site after the explosion. Results indicate that asbestos-containing materials were present in the debris. It is not possible to quantify the exposure in this situation or determine how it might compare to other identified or unidentified exposures to asbestos-containing materials.


The NC Division of Public Health cannot know for sure whether anyone was exposed to asbestos during this incident. However, based on our test results and the short time that elapsed before dust was controlled at the site, we believe the potential for public exposure to asbestos was minimal.


Who is at risk for an asbestos-related disease?

Everyone is at risk for asbestos exposure at some time during their life. Low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water, and soil. However, most people do not become ill from their exposure.


People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who are exposed to it on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact.


What diseases are associated with asbestos exposure?

The three main diseases associated with asbestos exposure are asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.  Most people don’t show any signs or symptoms of asbestos-related disease for 10 to 20 years or more after exposure.


Asbestosis and lung cancer are related to the amount of exposure and how long someone was exposed. The more time an individual is exposed and the higher the exposure, the greater the risk of disease. Mesothelioma, however, is not solely based upon the amount and length of exposure. There have been some cases where an individual has contracted this disease with very little exposure over a short period of time.


What factors contribute to my risk of disease?

Being exposed to asbestos does not always mean you will develop health problems. Many factors can affect your risk for health problems from asbestos exposure. The most important factors are:

•           How long and how frequently you were exposed

•           How much asbestos you were exposed to

•           The size and type of asbestos you were exposed to

•           How long it has been since your exposure started

•           Whether you have other lung conditions, like asthma or COPD

•           Whether you smoke cigarettes – cigarette smoking combined with asbestos exposure substantially increases your chances of lung cancer.


Who should I contact if I have medical questions?

Your doctor can help you determine whether you are at risk for health problems from asbestos exposure. Should you have any questions or need further guidance, please feel free to contact the North Carolina Division of Public Health, Occupation and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, at (919) 707-5900.


Are there other resources available?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):            

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR):

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):                          



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