Smoke from Burning Bridge Affects Resident’s Health

Wooden beams in a railway bridge on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley owned by Patriot Rail Company, somehow caught fire and had been burned for several days. The bridge was over the Jordan River. Local residents reported an acrid smell and symptoms of exposure to the smoke including headaches and difficulty breathing.

Read coverage from Fox 13 News and the Salt Lake Tribune.

All too often the reaction from government authorities to these kinds of events is too slow, and worse, is to downplay the hazard. 

Courtesy of the Salt Lake City Fire Department A bridge that spans the Jordan river burned Thursday and Friday, filling the Fairpark and Rose Park neighborhoods of Salt Lake City with smoke and causing concern over the fumes.

We are concerned that the railway fire on the West side of the Salt Lake Valley wasn’t being taken seriously enough by state and local authorities. If residents are complaining of symptoms, then you can assume their health is being harmed. Most of the harm will be short term, but in the case of pregnant mothers and their babies in utero, and small children, the harm may not be short term. 

We know that exposure to PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) is capable of causing epigenetic changes at tiny concentrations, i.e. parts per trillion, and that these changes can appear within minutes of exposure. PAHs are found in urban air pollution, but they are particularly found in high concentrations in some kinds of industrial emissions and wood smoke. 

PAHs and other toxic chemicals are in high concentrations in creosote, so wood beams soaked in creosote that are on fire or still smoldering, are undoubtedly releasing high concentrations of PAHs for both of those reasons, and are likely responsible for the symptoms that nearby residents were experiencing.