People living near deadly apartment fire face risk of asbestos

WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- People living near Westminster apartment units that caught fire on July 22 are facing serious health concerns.

Restoration experts indicated to city leaders that asbestos was in the building, according to a letter from the fire chief to residents. The fire sent smoke and debris flying through the air.

Signs warning of asbestos can be found around the perimeter of the fire destruction site where two women were killed.

“I knew the night of the fire … that we have asbestos in the walls,” resident Sierra Shears said.

The naturally occurring fibrous mineral has been used in thousands of building products throughout the years to provide strength and durability. It can cause cancer.

“Like any carcinogen, the less you’re exposed throughout your lifetime -- the better off you are,” said Laura Shumpert with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Testing for asbestos is done by trained and certified companies, according to Shumpert.

“We’ve heard the testing has been done,” Shumpert said. “We don’t have any confirmation yet that it’s been done.”

Until testing is complete, state health investigators won’t talk specifically about the investigation. The tests should give officials a better idea of how big the problem is and how best to tackle abatement.

The units that caught fire were constructed after a 1970s federal asbestos ban, but that ban did not outlaw all asbestos. Testing is required before and after building demolition -- including demolition caused by fire.

Residents are advised to stay away from the fire debris.

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