EPA: No asbestos fibers in air samples from Belmont Ave. fire

Aerials from Chopper 13 HD

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says tests show no presence of asbestos fibers. The tests were taken on air samples during the huge warehouse fire on Belmont Ave. last Saturday.

According to EPA's data, individual asbestos fibers were not released into the air during the fire. The air sample tested was collected at a location near the fire scene over a period of several hours.

The Marion County Public Health Department advises residents to leave debris from the fire undisturbed as the investigation into the fire continues.

Meantime, an independent test has found asbestos in some of the debris that fell in Indianapolis neighborhoods during a huge warehouse fire last weekend. WTHR submitted samples to a local laboratory for testing. (It's important to note that WTHR had debris samples tested. Our tests were not for air quality.)

Fire, charred metal, and piles of black ash are among the hazards federal investigators face as they investigate the cause of a warehouse fire. Asbestos is also a concern, both for investigators and residents.

As Chopper 13 HD got a bird's eye view of the danger inside at 202 S. Belmont Ave. at Nationwide Recycling, residents showed us potential dangers on the outside. Residents are concerned that the debris that rained down in their neighborhoods contains asbestos.

Firefighters were busy putting out hot spots at the warehouse on Belmont Ave. Wednesday, four days after a massive fire ripped through the structure.

Investigators are standing by, ready to go inside to look for an origin and cause of the fire, which caused about 60 percent of the building to collapse. They will bring in diggers to sift through small mountains of debris.

The ATF's National Response Team is participating in the investigation. They will wear protective gear due to the asbestos threat, and they'll also work in shorter shifts and go through decontamination when they're finished.

Asbestos concerns

"It's our understanding asbestos was found on floor tile, on thermal system insulation, on pipes and asphalt roofing and that's not uncommon in a building of this age," said Jeff Larmore, Marion County Health Department, speaking at a news conference this week.

Resident Pete Pappas is convinced that asbestos has made its way from inside that building to his front yard in the 1300 block of North College about five miles away.

"I went over and looked at it and said, 'Oh, holy crap. That's asbestos,'" he said.

Pappas has more than 40 years experience in general contracting. He says he knows asbestos when he sees it.

"There's the fibers of asbestos on the very edge," he said, pointing to the debris. "There's another one there. Those are the fibers that kill you."

WTHR conducted a test on debris collected from Indianapolis residents. It came back positive for asbestos (60 percent chrysotile; 40 percent binder).

(See the results here.)

Like many people on Saturday afternoon, Pappas watched the debris rain down over his neighborhood. He collected a bag of the stuff.

"These dots and lines are typical of asbestos paper. You can see it's been on the roof of where the fire is. You see the tar fragments on it," he said.

When we first caught up with Chrestien Bottoms and her two girls on Sunday, they were playfully picking up the debris in their yard without any worry. The family lives about a block from the the recycling warehouse and they had plenty to clean up. Now, Chrestien is learning that debris they handled with their bare hands could have contained asbestos.

"I had fears of the smoke inhalation and coughing that stuff back up, but as far as it being asbestos and being deadly, that's a whole other worry," she said.

To make matters worse, Christien started feeling sick on Sunday.

"I've got a runny nose. I'm coughing up green stuff. I blew my nose earlier and there was black stuff in it. I assumed it was from the smoke, but I didn't think it would be as bad as asbestos. That's scary," she said.

"It's like putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger and the bullet hits you 25 years later," said Pappas.

If asbestos is inhaled, the fibers can cause serious disease to the lungs and other parts of the body that many not be detected until years after the exposure.

More about asbestos testing:

An expert on environmental issues, Bill Beranek with the Indiana Environmental Institute, told Eyewitness News that asbestos is most dangerous when it is "breathable" - when it's contained in smoke and air and the particles go directly into the lungs.  That exposure is most likely to happen during a fire or if someone is working directly in the removal of asbestos from a building. 

If you find a chunk of debris and you're concerned it may contain asbestos, pick it up and put it in a plastic bag and throw it in the trash can.  If you are concerned that the debris may break into pieces – wet it down, then throw it away.  He says the waste disposal process will then take care of any dangers.

The sample that WTHR had tested was 60% chrysotile (a type of asbestos) and 40% binder.  Beranek says chrysotile is the most common and least dangerous type of asbestos.  It is still used in some US building materials today.

Inspection reports missing

Eyewitness News confirmed Wednesday night investigators can't find the latest inspection reports for the plant. 13 Investigates asked for the annual inspection report to make sure all safety requirements were followed by the owner.

The fire department did release a 2007 letter sent to the building owner, requesting the owner contact a code consultant to resolve issues surrounding sprinkler systems, water supply and fire department access to the building.