34 persons are confirmed dead after the Brussels bombings at the Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station.
Hearts are broken for the men and woven that lost their lives in those horrific attacks. Innocent world citizens has once again been stricken by meaningless violence and death. Why must this happen??
Will the death toll rise?
Not to forget, up to 270 persons were also injured in those attacks. But is this really the true number?
What is not included in this count, is the number of people potentially injured by hazardous materials released in the explosions.
Most notably in the Maelbeek metro explosion, where dust and fumes from the explosions contained a wide spectrum of hazardous materials, airbourne in high concentrations. While 20 people died and 130 was injured in the metro explosion, a large number of survivors and first responders were most likely exposed to harmful concentrations of those toxic materials in respirable air.
Could this mean that the death toll could rise?
Asbestos is one of the toxic materials now possibly airbourne at the Maelbeek station scene. As known, asbestos is a material widely used in metro settings. Numerous times, asbestos has been found in metro carriages, in tunnel insulation, mixed in constructon materials and spray-on fireproofing for both stations and tunnels.
Clouds of dust and fume from a bomb blast will contain a huge number of microscopic particles, including asbestos in this case, and any survivor or first responder may have breathed in large quantities of it. Just like asbestos was released in large concentrations after the 9/11 attacks, causing respiratory disease in a large number of first responders. It is too early to tell if they will develop terminal asbestos-related diseases, but the risk is high.
Similar to the Brussels Metro bombing, was the July London Metro Bombings in 2005, where hazard profiling after the incident included a consideration that a significant number of asbestos fibres could have been released into the air.
Initial on-scene assessments of the potential for a deliberate release of chemical agents were made by the emergency and health staff and the London Underground. Assessments included a risk of physical, biological and chemical exposures after having identified hazardous material that may have been released, including asbestos.
Asbestos air monitoring was undertaken on the London Underground, and results of airborne asbestos fibre monitoring are listed in this table:
The response to the London Bombings included a fast initiation of environmental and occupational hygiene monitoring strategies, which is essential to support both public and occupational health risk assessments during incidents which may have involved hazardous materials release. We can hope that the same procedures are undertaken at the Maelbeek metro station, so that survivors and first responders can be made aware of any potential harm besides the explosion itself.
Exposure to asbestos is irreversible, and survivors and first responders could be at escalated risk to develop asbestos-related diseases in the future.
“The July 2005 London Bombings: environmental monitoring for non-infectious materials release, and initial health risk assessment.”