Signs near deadly Durham explosion warn of cancer risk

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Signs near the site of a deadly gas line explosion warn of cancer risk for people without breathing protection.

The block of Duke Street between Main and Morgan Streets remains closed nearly three weeks after an explosion at Kaffeinate killed the coffee shop’s owner and a Dominion Energy employee. Kong Lee died the day of the blast while Jay Rambeaut succumbed to his injuries following two weeks in intensive care.

A cleanup crew began to remove debris from the road Monday. Workers blocked off sections of the street with red Danger Do Not Enter tape and hung signs in English and Spanish warning of the health risks from asbestos in the area.

The team of about a half-dozen men wore cover-alls, goggles, and safety respirator masks to protect themselves from particles of the tiny fibrous minerals which can cause mesothelioma and other lung diseases associated with asbestos. A decontamination unit on site has a door on one end marked Dirty while the opposite side’s exit is labeled clean. The trailer has a tank attached to a fire hydrant so workers can wash off.

A separate hose provides liquid to a hand-held device used to spray small sections of debris. Moisture keeps the dust on the ground as workers sweep and shovel. The meticulous procedure minimizes particles in the air.

The primary building involved in the explosion dates back to 1920 when asbestos fibers were commonly used in fireproofing and insulation.

“Asbestos is a hugely useful but unfortunately potentially very dangerous mineral that people need to take precautions working with and around it,” Duke pathologist Dr. Thomas Sporn said.

“The cleanup and disposal of asbestos are very tightly regulated as to who can do it and what certifications.”

The Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is involved in the investigation, under the leadership of Industrial Hygiene Consultant Supervisor Jeff Dellinger.

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