115 Austin firefighters potentially exposed to asbestos at warehouse blaze

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Up to 115 Austin firefighters were potentially exposed to asbestos during a three-alarm warehouse blaze in the St. John’s neighborhood of north Austin on May 6, according to Austin Fire Department spokesperson Michelle Tanzola.

The property, located at 7309 N. Interstate-35 at the corner of the service road and Blackson Avenue, is owned by the City of Austin, according to Travis Central Appraisal District records. The burned warehouse sits next door to a former Home Depot property the city also owns.

“We’re sending approximately 115 individuals for X-rays as a precautionary measure. Should they develop some sort of medical issue later as a result that needed treatment, establishing a baseline record and paperwork now ensures less red tape later for them to get care, even though it would be covered under the presumptive law regardless,” Tanzola said in an email. “We want to take care of our folks, and doing this protects them both while they’re still working for us and into retirement, too.”

The cause of the fire is not known, but the damage to the structure is estimated at $100,000 with $10,000 in damage to the building’s contents, Tanzola said.

Photos of the fire’s aftermath posted by AFD on its informational Twitter feed show the aging warehouse was covered in graffiti. It is not yet clear what was stored inside.

Asbestos investigations

KXAN investigated a series of asbestos exposures in city-owned buildings in 2017.

In one of those incidents, up to 120 city workers in an airport office building were potentially exposed to asbestos in 2016 during floor renovations that disturbed asbestos-laden glue. KXAN also discovered city employees were potentially exposed in buildings operated by the Austin Water Utility and Parks and Recreation Department.

Following KXAN’s investigation the city reviewed and overhauled its asbestos policies.

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