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Free wildfire hazardous waste removal
The State of Oregon is working with federal, state and local partners to safely address ash and debris from the 2020 Oregon wildfires. Removing fire debris is a two-step cleanup process.
- Step 1 is clearing properties of household hazardous waste to minimize exposure of hazardous materials to the public.
- Step 2 is removal of ash, debris and burned-out structures.
The process to clean up household hazardous waste is beginning, and is being provided at no cost to property owners. Property owners must sign an access agreement with their county, called a Right of Entry form, to allow cleanup crews onto their property.
Getting started with cleanup
After the Fire: How to Safely Manage Ash and Debris from Burned Buildings
If your home was burned by a wildfire
Losing a home to fire can be extremely traumatic, both physically and emotionally. There is sometimes physical injury and loss of human life in some fires, or the loss of pets. Then there is the loss of property, and items of financial or sentimental value.
With all these things to deal with, the last thing many people think about after a crisis is the hazardous nature of ash and fire debris on their property. But there are some basic things you should understand about ash to fully protect yourself, your family and in some cases, your neighbors.
Use caution around debris
Some property owners may return to the site in the immediate aftermath of the fire, if only to assess the damage. The first thing to understand before doing this is that ash and debris from burned houses, sheds and other structures can be hazardous, particularly when particles are inhaled. This ash and partially burned debris may contain asbestos, mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium and a variety of other dangerous chemicals.
Be aware of all electrical hazards – including those from downed power lines or other electrical sources – as well as hazards from unstable walking surfaces and sharp objects buried in the ash. Use extreme caution at all times when near the debris.
- Wear sturdy footwear, eye goggles, a properly fitted N95 or KN95 respirator and heavy duty work gloves. If possible, wear disposable coveralls and dispose of them after use. If you do not wear disposable coveralls, make sure to have a clean set of clothes to change into after working or rummaging in debris and ashes.
- Cloth face coverings, paper masks or bandanas are not effective at filtering out fine airborne ash, dust or asbestos fibers. N95 and KN95 respirators, if properly fit tested and worn, can offer some protection from airborne particles. See more about masks in next section.
- Don't use a leaf blower to clean up ash. It will create more airborne particles. Ash must be adequately wetted to control dust that can become airborne. Water may not always be available, but it is one of the most important means to control ash and asbestos. When cleaning with water, please ensure water containing ash is not washed into the stormwater system or into surface waters. Water containing ash can cause water quality issues.
- Children should not be involved in cleanup activities. Do not let children near the debris or in an area where they might breathe airborne particles left from the fire.
- Wash any recovered personal items with water or wipe with a damp cloth to remove potentially toxic dust ensuring water containing ash is not washed into the stormwater system or into surface waters. Water containing ash can cause water quality issues.
Masks and respirators
Cloth face coverings, paper masks or bandanas are not very effective at filtering out fine airborne ash, dust or asbestos fibers. This is because they typically do not have a tight fit around the face. However, they are good for minimizing the release of droplets that help spread COVID-19.
N95 respirators, if properly fit tested and worn, can offer some protection from airborne particles. Otherwise they may create a false sense of security. N95 respirators, are currently in short supply and being reserved for health care workers due to COVID-19.
KN95s are similar to N95s. Some are NIOSH approved, but do not meet health care standards. Like N95s, KN95s need to fit well enough to form a seal and be properly worn. Some individuals may have more difficulty getting them to fit properly and seal as well as an N95. Learn how to get a proper fit in this short instructional
N95 respirator video from Oregon OSHA. If you use a KN95 respirator, then it needs to be on the FDA-approved list. To check the list, visit FDA's Personal Protective Equipment EUAs page and scroll to “Appendix A: Authorized Imported, Non-NIOSH Approved Respirators Manufactured in China."
If N95 and KN95 respirators are not available, and you must go to a place with ash and debris, use a face covering that covers the nose and mouth and fits snugly against the sides of the face. Face coverings made of two to three layers are better than those made of one. With any respirator or face covering, make sure that you can breathe comfortably and take breaks away from debris and ash as needed.