Toxic, cancer-causing substances make recovering belongings dangerous
Boulder County, CO – As people return to the areas affected by the Marshall fire, Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) strongly cautions that sorting through ash and debris poses a significant health risk and is highly dangerous.
There is erroneous and potentially dangerous information circulating from community organizations and businesses in Boulder County regarding the safety of disturbing ash and debris in an effort to recover cherished belongings, and some organizations are offering equipment designed for sifting through ash.
BCPH strongly recommends that residents do not attempt to remove debris or clean-up properties that have been damaged or destroyed and under no circumstance should residents disturb ash regardless of what personal protective equipment (PPE) they may have.
Fire professionals recommend only salvaging items that can be removed without sifting through ashes. Recovering personal and precious possessions is important and emotional to those who have lost so much due to the fires. Never compromise your safety or health in an effort to recover belongings.
When returning to your home to look for belongings that may have survived the fire, FEMA provides basic guidelines from professional conservators on how to keep yourself and your loved-ones safe and healthy.
All ash contains small amounts of cancer-causing chemicals. Ash and debris from burned structures may contain toxic substances because of synthetic and other materials present in buildings. Older buildings may contain asbestos and lead.
Ash consists of ultra-fine particles that can go deep into the lungs where they can enter the bloodstream and damage internal organs. Even highly efficient respiratory protection such as N95 masks can allow small amounts of ash to reach your lungs.
Boulder County is working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the impacted municipalities to coordinate debris removal from homes that have been destroyed or damaged by the Marshall or Middle Fork fires.