High levels of asbestos and large amounts of debris prevented federal investigators of the Hoboken NJ train crash for at least a week to do their work of investigating and cleaning up the crash.

Federal officials were able to open most of the rail lines at the Hoboken terminal in late October, but efforts to clean up the 100 year old terminal will likely take many more weeks.

The Sept. 29 crash resulted in one death and injured more than 100 commuters who were waiting in the station.

The crash debris was an immediate concern for federal investigators; the other major problem was that there were high levels of asbestos dust in the air that made moving the debris very dangerous and difficult.

The asbestos contamination also prevented federal investigators from getting to important evidence in the train, which included event records and on board camera equipment.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there has been extensive testing and monitoring that is being done by OSHA on the asbestos levels in the terminal.

As many as four days after the train crash, the air quality in the terminal were well below safe levels for workers to do their investigation and clean up work. The major toxin found in the air was asbestos fibers. OSHA stated that the quality of the the air would not allow workers to be exposed to it in a standard eight hour work day.

What Are the Short Term Risks of Breathing Asbestos Dust?

Most people know that asbestos exposure over the long term can lead to serious health issues, including mesothelioma, one of the most deadly lung cancers. Of course, being exposed to asbestos fibers does not guarantee that the person will actually develop the disease.

Generally, whether the person will get mesothelioma will depend upon many factors, including how long they were exposed, the type of asbestos, and when.

However, there is plenty of conflicting information out there about the short term exposure risks of breathing asbestos. Generally speaking it is believed that you are not at risk of developing. Mesothelioma if you are exposed to asbestos one time. Still, it is strongly recommended that you should talk to your doctor if this occurs. There are no 100% successful tests that can check if the deadly fibers have lodged in your lungs. But your doctor will be able to do some or all of the following tests to determine your degree of exposure:

  • Imaging scans, such as x-rays, CT scans, MRI or PET scan
  • Blood tests that may show biomarkers in the bloodstream
  • Biopsies where tissue samples are taken

What you should remember is that if you have been exposed in the short term to asbestos, you should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible. Even if the risk is very low, it is a good idea to see if you have suffered any adverse health effects. Also, if you have any health problems years later, it will help to have it in your medical records that you were evaluated for an asbestos-related condition soon after you were exposed.

According to federal investigators, the problem was that that the train station was more than a century old, and it was built at a time when asbestos was heavily used. As long as the asbestos was contained in the structure of the building, it posed no risk. But when the train slammed into the train station at more than 20 miles per hour, much of that asbestos was exposed to the air.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring but very deadly mineral that was once used in all types of commercial and residential construction due to its ability to retard heat and fire, and also because it was so expensive.

Asbestos Danger Required Evacuation of Hoboken Terminal

The asbestos levels in the terminal were so high that federal investigators had to clear out the station less than a day after the crash. According to NTSB lead investigator James Southworth, due to all of the asbestos in the air and in the walls that were exposed, the NTSB  decided to empty the building until it could be made safe.

The train eventually came to rest at the major intersection in the old train building. The Erie-Lackawanna Train Terminal dates to the early 1900s, when asbestos was mixed into cement, insulation, drywall, tile flooring and duct work. The force of the crash disrupted these materials and released asbestos fibers into the environment.

After the area was cleaned up of the asbestos in the air and in the general vicinity, the federal investigators were able to enter the building and continue their investigation. At this time, all that is known is that the engineer in charge of the train has no memory of the crash. It is possible that he suffered a medical emergency, or even fell asleep, but this is only speculation at this time.