People Near Hawaii Wildfires are at Risk of Exposure to Harmful Carcinogens

People Near Hawaii Wildfires are at Risk of Exposure to Harmful Carcinogens

The fires in Maui are posing serious health risks for residents.  This is due to chemical compounds being released into the air, water, and wreckage. The health department of Hawaii cautioned residents that ash and dust from burned buildings could contain asbestos and lead. Many buildings in the hardest hit community Lahaina were built before asbestos and lead were phased out, so they could contain these harmful substances.  Asbestos and lead are especially dangerous because they do not burn, so this leads to asbestos and lead being in the ash and dust. There is some concern about inhalation of asbestos and lead, but the bigger danger is people ingesting the substances if they get them on their clothes or hands.

The fires could have also released arsenic from the soil. Arsenic was used as an herbicide in the 1900s in Hawaii, especially in sugar cane and pineapple fields. The chemical binds to the dirt so it is likely to be found in dust and ash. There could also be volatile organic compounds and smoke in the air. Volatile organic compounds enter the air after substances like rubber, metal, and plastic burn.

Many people in Maui were exposed to toxic substances. People in two areas-Lahaina and Upper Kula- were warned not to drink or boil their water because it could contain benzene and other volatile organic compounds. People were also advised to avoid baths and swimming pools, to take showers using lukewarm water, to wash clothing in cold water, to avoid ice from automatic ice makers, and to use dishwashers with air dry settings. These recommendations are going to remain until test results come back, but it is not known when this will be.

Water tests are looking for volatile organic compounds and a subgroup of chemicals called semi volatile organic compounds. Water could be contaminated due to some systems losing pressure because of the fire, allowing contaminants into the water supply. The dangers of chemical exposure will remain until recovery workers remove ash and rubble. Cleaning it all in the shortest amount of time should help the air, soil, and water since the wind can stir up the contaminants and reintroduce them. One expert believes people in the area should be wearing N95 masks. It is also recommended to be evaluated if people are still experiencing respiratory or sinus symptoms. Larger scale items will be removed first and then the authorities will determine how to clean up the dust, ash, and soil.

Over 5,000 masks have been distributed to residents and people in evacuation shelters. They are also working on acquiring protective suits that can be worn over clothing.

Were you exposed to a harmful carcinogen like asbestos or lead? Contact us today to see if you could be entitled to compensation. Call 412-471-3980 or fill out our contact form and a member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.

Aria Bendix, Lauren Dunn, and Patrick Martin, “Chemicals released into air and water from Maui fires could pose long-term risks” NBC News (August 14, 2023). [Link]

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