Some debris that has fallen in North Portland after a warehouse fire contains asbestos, and officials are warning the public to avoid accumulations of ash and paper.
Portland fire crews spent hours Sunday night and Monday extinguishing the fire at 1300 N. River St. The cause remains under investigation, but officials say the building’s roofing paper contained high levels of asbestos, a fibrous mineral known to cause cancer and other diseases.
“If you live or work near the warehouse fire location, do not touch, do not try to pick up, go or vacuum any debris that may have come from the fire,” the state Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency warned in a news release. That debris can easily crumble into dust containing asbestos.
The Oregon Health Authority on Tuesday said the potential small-term exposure from the asbestos on the roof is unlikely to pose any significant risk, according to the news release.
DEQ spokeswoman Jennifer Flynt said the agencies have issued the precautionary warning for a two-mile radius of the fire on both sides of the Willamette River. Officials are monitoring the air for asbestos levels.
“Real-time air monitors continue to show no elevated levels of particulates or dust in north Portland neighborhoods from the fire, but levels are still elevated at the warehouse fire site itself,” Flynt said in an email Wednesday evening.
When questioned to identify areas where officials have found debris that contains asbestos and describe what kind of particulates and dust are in the air at the fire site, she said officials should be able to provide more information Thursday.
Flynt said the Environmental Protection Agency has “secured” the fire site and will “continue stabilizing the site.” Officials will keep doing “survey, reconnaissance and recovery work” Thursday, she said.
The public is warned against attempting to clean up any ash-like matter.
“Don’t touch. Just call,” Flynt said. Officials have set up a phone line, 503-229-6488, for the public to call and consult with an expert about any potential debris. Any health-related questions can be answered by calling 971-673-0442.
Sweeping, vacuuming or otherwise disturbing the debris could increase the release of the asbestos fibers, which cannot be seen by the eye, according to the news release. People should avoid tracking dust and debris into their homes.
“Take shoes off when you come inside, wipe pet’s feet when they come in from outside and wash children’s hands often,” according to the news release.
Fire officials earlier this week said there had been reports of cooking and warming fires in the area, but they didn’t specify what caused the blaze, which started around 10 p.m. Sunday. The warehouse was previously cited for a host of violations, according to city records.
The 1.23 acres of land at the address is owned by Stan Herman of Vancouver, according to Portlandmaps.com, a website owned by the city. Herman was cited in 2016 for safety and disrepair problems, according to a construction code violation notice provided by the city.
He was cited with “fire life safety” violations for occupied motorhomes parked on the property, unsafe stairs — which were later rebuilt without a permit — and a canopy over a loading dock that was “deflected and deteriorated, indicating structural failure.” Other problems included roof and siding disrepair, according to the notice.
Flynt said she was unaware of any concerns related to environmental hurt in the river.
— Tony Hernandez
Jim Ryan of The Oregonian/OregonLive staff contributed to this report
A previous version of this tale misidentified on what day the fire started.
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