Wildfire ash, debris creates carcinogen risk for Boulder County residents

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — With cleanup underway in Boulder County, state and local health departments are warning residents of toxins and serious health risks associated with ash and debris.

From the heavy smoke as the fire was raging to the smoldering debris, a public environmental health threat exists across Superior and Louisville.

“We’ve seen a lot of contaminants in ash from structure fires,” said David Snapp, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment solid waste and materials management program manager.

Snapp said sampling from California wildfires, that have burned homes, shows there are toxic amounts of heavy metals and asbestos in smoke and ash. Carcinogens should be taken seriously. Officials said taking precautions will keep people relatively safe.

“We prefer people that are professionals at debris cleanup be the ones to enter those sites,” Snapp stressed.

People are eager to return to their neighborhoods to see what can be salvaged, but officials said to wait until authorities give the all-clear. For those who don’t wait, NIOSH-certified air-purifying respirator masks are recommended, according to a CDPHE press release.

Dr. Anthony Gerber, a pulmonologist with National Jewish Health, warns smoke and ash are not the only factors people should think about. Smoke odors are also an issue.

“[These odors exist] when you’re breathing in fumes from smoke that are getting released from clothing or furniture or carpet,” Gerber explained.

It’s important to not only air out clothing but also homes that remain standing.

“That can be dangerous, and it’s difficult to get rid of those odors.”

As for the fire itself, strong wind forced smoke into an eastward-flowing band last Thursday. Those caught up in that band were breathing in thicker smoke. Higher concentrations of ingested smoke create more of a concern for potential long-term health consequences. It’s important, if possible, to be upwind of fire.

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