After the fires in Beit Meir and Haifa, it was discovered that many of the burned buildings contained asbestos.
The public has been advised to close all windows facing burned buildings which contained asbestos, and to drive through affected areas with their car windows closed, to prevent asbestos from being inhaled.
The Environmental Protection Ministry has also warned civilians to avoid coming within 50 meters of affected buildings or arson sites. Those who must enter the areas are advised to use protective gear in order to avoid inhaling the asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which is heat- and fire-resistant, and does not conduct electricity. It has been used in various industries, including clothes, cement, and other building materials, and was found several decades ago to be a potent carcinogen.
Use of asbestos has since been banned in several countries, but buildings which already contained asbestos were allowed to be left unchanged. In Israel, it is very common to find asbestos in stairwells and on the outsides of older buildings.
An Environmental Ministry spokesman said, "During the fire, the cement locked in the burned boards. The boards made of asbestos began to come apart, and asbestos fibers were released into the air. Asbestos fibers change their shape only when the temperature reaches above 700 degrees Celsius. It is therefore imperative to work as quickly as possible in order to remove the asbestos from all affected sites."