Building Collapse Aftermath: Are Health Risks Involved?

Sanford Research Center Scientist Weighs In

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – On Friday, dozens of first responders responded to a scene full of dust and debris. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue says following the building collapse in downtown, their main focus was to save 22-year-old Emily Fodness and 24-year-old Ethan McMahon. But what kind of health impact could it have on the first responders or construction crews?

Sioux Falls Fire Rescue says when they respond to an emergency, they’re focused on the task at hand.

“Your focus is pretty narrow on what you’re doing so you need to have those eyes and ears that can oversee the entire scene and watch for any changes or anything that we’re missing,” said Sioux Falls Fire Rescue Div. Chief Brad Goodroad.

Goodroad says they have an overall Safety Officer at the scene and sometimes one assigned to a specific area.

“It’s their jobs to make sure they have that proper equipment on,” Goodroad said.

During a fire, they wear a self contained breathing apparatus. Following a building collapse, it a dust mask.

Goodroad said, “When you’re not sure what’s there, you’re wearing a mask to protect yourself from what might be there.”

The former Copper Lounge building that crumbled to the ground on Friday was built in 1916. A building that old poses even more of a risk.

“You worry about a lot of organic dust being released into the atmosphere and along with there could be other chemicals and compounds associated with it, such as asbestos, such as other metals,” said Peter Vitiello, an Associate Scientist at Sanford Research.

He says those masks may not be enough.

Vitiello said, “They do serve a purpose to filter out particles, but even smaller particles can get through that mask and actually interact with the cells in our body and cause them to behave abnormally.”

While 9/11 was a tragedy on a much larger scale, Vitiello says it has taught us that any adverse affects may not show up right away.

“We’re 15 years removed from the World Trade Center collapse and actually we’re at a point right now where fewer police officers died in that attack at the scene than are dying now from the health, adverse health related issues based on their exposure,” Vitiello said.

He says what we don’t know is how much exposure is too much.

Vitiello says first responders and workers who have underlying health risks, can be even more at risk of developing cancers down the road after being exposed to harmful chemicals.

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