Firefighters and other emergency responders tried to keep bystanders from getting too close to smoke that billowed from a building blaze in Ocean City on Friday, citing a public hazard.

The fear was that smoke from the Bellevue Hotel fire might have included toxins, such as asbestos from the building exterior, according to acting State Fire Marshal William Kramer, whose office will be involved in investigating the cause of the fire.

“Smoke is inherently toxic to begin with,” he said.

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Smoke from any building fire contains small particles that can be harmful to people who breath it in. In this case, officials at the scene cited the use of asbestos in the building’s construction as a concern.

Asbestos when released in the air increases the risk of developing lung disease, according to the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials later said the risk was a relatively low one, particularly because asbestos doesn’t burn easily, Kramer said. But officials wanted to take precautions by establishing a perimeter and setting up air monitoring sites along that perimeter, he said.

“The only asbestos issue they would be dealing with is on the outside of the building,” he said, adding the building’s exterior may have contained a small amount of asbestos.

Prior to its identification as a human toxin, asbestos was valued as a building material due to its fire resistance.

Cape May County Deputy Fire Marshal Rocco Disilvestro, whose office will lead the investigation into the blaze, said he also did not believe there was enough asbestos in the building that burned to cause a health problem.

“I don’t think that would generate enough that would cause a health hazard,” he said.

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