Rescuers Faced Asbestos Risks at Demolition Site

First responders who came to the aid of a gravely injured man at an Aspen, Colo. middle school on Wednesday never realized that they’d be facing the risk of exposure to asbestos during the rescue.

John Ruiz of Denver was part of a crew doing demolition and removing vermiculite (a naturally-occurring mineral that is often contaminated with asbestos) at the Aspen Middle School earlier this week when a cinder block wall fell on him.

According to an article in the Aspen Times, “rescuers trying to reach Ruiz rushed into a plastic-draped construction zone where crews from ESA of Denver were removing the material.”

Pitkin County Sheriff’s Investigator Ron Ryan said rescuers were concerned that another wall might fall at the demolition site. However, their fears increased when they noticed that construction workers were wearing disposable suits and breathing masks to protect themselves from inhaling asbestos. The rescuers had entered the scene unprotected, totally unaware that an asbestos hazard may have been present.

“We’re prepared for these types of scenarios,” Ryan said of potential hazards at an incident. “By the time we were into it, we saw that it was a possibly hazardous situation.”

Deputy Adam Crider, who ran in and out of the contaminated site to retrieve supplies, said he was coughing after the incident, but believed it was the effect of concrete dust in the air.

“The guys in paper suits and aspirators surprised us,” said Aspen officer Joe Holman. “But once you’re in it, you’re in it.”

Aspen’s environmental health director, Lee Cassin, told concerned parties that he believes the vermiculite found at the site is much less toxic than “straight asbestos”, which is often used as insulation inside a building or might be found wrapped around boilers or water pipes.

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