Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

High Arsenic Levels Close Busy Firehouse; Firefighters Reassigned after Physicals Revealed Elevated Levels of the Poison in Their Blood

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

High Arsenic Levels Close Busy Firehouse; Firefighters Reassigned after Physicals Revealed Elevated Levels of the Poison in Their Blood

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIDGET MURPHY

City officials shut down one of Jacksonville's busiest firehouses Monday after tests showed the firefighters who work there have elevated levels of arsenic in their blood.

The 27 firefighters who work at Station 21 on Morrow Street in Lakewood aren't showing symptoms of health problems associated with higher concentrations of heavy metals in their bodies, but the station was closed temporarily as a precaution, Fire and Rescue Department spokesman Tom Francis said.

The station's ladder truck, engine and rescue units were split up and sent to other nearby fire districts Monday, something department officials said won't negatively affect emergency response times.

The problem was found after the firefighters, who are among the city's hazardous materials experts, had routine annual physicals, authorities said.

Duval County health officials inspected the firehouse Monday to try to find the source of the problem but said the arsenic levels they found weren't high enough to cause any health problems. Inspectors took water samples from the firehouse as part of the investigation, said Aaron Hilliard, the health department's health and engineering director.

The one-story brick firehouse was built in 1949. It is scheduled to be replaced with a station that will be built nearby, probably in the next year, said Francis. In the meantime, department officials are looking into putting a mobile home on property near Station 21 so the fire engine can continue to respond from its usual district, fire union President Roger Lewis said.

Lewis said he agreed with the city's decision to temporarily close Station 21 while inspectors probed the problem and that he also believed it wouldn't negatively affect emergency response times. Authorities suspect the problem isn't with the water supply but may be with the building itself, he said.

Tests done on water pumping through JEA treatment plants last month found trace arsenic levels, "well below what would be any kind of a problem," agency spokesman Ron Whittington said.

People can be exposed to arsenic through the air, by drinking contaminated water or eating tainted food. …

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