“…unless something else happens to it.” Like FIRE.

In Friday’s article about the FISC fire in the Alameda Journal, we find this, the mother of all quotes from Chief Kapler:

“The amount of debris that possibly contained asbestos was minimal,” Fire Chief Dave Kapler said. “And asbestos isn’t easily released into the air unless it’s broken up or something else happens to it.”

Point One, Chief Kapler, you from whom we have every right to expect incisive analysis and decisive action rather than vague, paternalistic platitudes:

One of the “something elses” that can “happen to” asbestos, is FIRE. FIRE releases asbestos and causes those dangerous microscopic fibers to float as far as 5 miles away. FIRE, Chief Kaplar. FIRE like the one that your department let burn for 19 hours, 15 of those hours without even attempting to extinguish the blaze. 19 hours of asbestos being released by fire floating all over the island and beyond.

Point Two, Chief Kapler, you who are charged with protecting us, but who seem tragically unclear on some crucial concepts:

The EPA says there is no such thing as a safe level of asbestos. No such thing as too small an amount to worry about. No such thing as an amount that isn’t important, that is isn’t treated by their agency as the gravest danger to public health. That’s because the fibers are microscopic – you can’t see them. That’s how they lodge in your lungs and eventually kill you. So, Chief Kapler, there is no such thing as MINIMAL when it comes to asbestos. I can even give you a percentage: 10% in the sample we had tested. 10% of 4 acres of roofing material – I think that’s a truckload of asbestos. Please, someone do the math and get back to me.

Corollary to Points One and Two: If a 4-acre building with asbestos pipe insulation and an asbestos-containing roof burns for 19 hours, how much denial do you have to be in to believe there wasn’t plenty of it flying around the atmosphere?

3. Only one agency (BAAQMD) was called out the the fire. The AFD/city was required to also notify the Coast Guard, the Water District and the EPA so it could help with asbestos abatement. Neither the AFD or the Deputy Mayor called those agencies.
All those agencies are pieces in the puzzle that keep us safe. The EPA stands ready to fund local clean-up efforts – that’s part of what they do. Because of the extreme mismanagement of this disaster, they never got the chance.

So, the fact that the “officials are quoted” as saying that “residents didn’t call the air district during the fire” is…absurd. That isn’t our job – it’s the AFD’s and the city’s.

Let me put this all together for you, fellow Alamedans:

–Because the AFD and city did not contact the proper agencies during the fire, they cannot respond to our complaints now. Agency after agency considers this “a city matter.”

But, at the city level:
— The position of Disaster Preparedness Officer (DPO) has been vacant since December 2007. That position is a crucial to an island community in the event of an earthquake, an asbestos-containing fire of this magnitude or any other public health event.

— In addition to the vacant DPO position, city has several firefighter positions that are vacant. It’s using overtime and closing or browning-out fire stations instead of filling these positions.

Is it just me, or does something stink?
I think the AFD was too busy teaching the city a lesson to put out the fire. I think the city is too busy teaching the AFD a lesson to pay attention to our safety. I think the city is too busy teaching us a lesson (that we need to accept their plans to develop Alameda Point?) to properly care for the city’s dangerously broken emergency preparedness infrastructure.

Too bad that all that teaching has endangered us all in perpetuity. Asbestos is the gift that keeps on giving.

What you can do
Call the city. Write the city. Write the papers – all of them. Contact all media and let them know this situation is unacceptable. Contact your county, state and federal representatives. And comment here and on other blogs. That’s what it’s going to take.


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