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In The Community // July 19, 2016 MAAC Staff

Staying Safe from Asbestos After a Storm

Long before it was found to cause horrendous diseases like mesothelioma, asbestos was a favorite product used in homes, schools, office buildings, and even hospitals. Its fire-resistant properties made it the perfect product for insulation, but it was also used in numerous other household building materials, including siding, ceiling materials, roofing shingles, and even some types of paint. Though its use has stopped in construction since the end of the 1980s, it could still be present in buildings that were erected before 1990. If left alone, asbestos poses little threat, because it is the fibers that are released into the air when it is disturbed that cause the various illnesses it is connected to.

When a major storm threatens – such as a hurricane, tornado, or a flood – most people think only of immediate survival. Food supplies, water, and shelter are their primary concerns, followed by the same considerations for their family and friends. Usually, in most instances, people are not thinking about the dangers that asbestos imposes during a severe storm or a natural disaster.

However, major storms can indeed pose a significant health risk from the asbestos that gets released during the event. For example, in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy decimated towns along the East Coast, asbestos was released into the environment in many communities. The asbestos came from the roofing tiles, insulation, pipes, and other materials that were left behind as part of the wreckage in the hurricane’s wake. Similar problems occurred in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Asbestos in the Aftermath

Hurricanes, tornados, and even floods can rip a building apart, and carry debris for miles.  This means that it may be impossible to know which building the pieces came from.

That’s why, when the cleanup begins, it’s always necessary to use precautions, and ensure that the proper measures are taken to keep the homeowners, residents, and cleanup crews safe from asbestos that may have been exposed during the devastation.

Such storms, especially floods, may even pose a new type of threat that many are not aware of.  During a storm, asbestos could contaminate any food or water sources that the fibers come in contact with. Those who ingest these contaminated items may suffer the consequences later on.

Use Safety Precautions

First, do not disturb any of the materials when first inspecting a home, until you determine where the materials containing asbestos are, so they can be removed properly. If you are not sure whether something contains asbestos, it may be best to assume that asbestos is present and take the appropriate measures from the start.

Secondly, make sure everyone doing cleanup is wearing safety gear. Special respirators exist that will filter out asbestos, along with a number of other toxins and dangerous substances. Safety glasses should also be worn to protect the eyes, and clothing that covers the entire body will help reduce the possibility of exposure.  It is best to use clothing that can be discarded with the asbestos materials when the cleanup is over.

Finally, make sure everyone involved in the cleanup is aware of how to properly clean up from an asbestos-related incident. Asbestos is most dangerous when it is broken and the fibers are released into the air. When it is wet, the fibers are less likely to become airborne, so before disturbing the materials meant for cleanup, soak them thoroughly with water. This is especially important when taking down damaged walls or other structural components, as they could contain hidden asbestos.

Asbestos Disposal

When dealing with asbestos cleanup, it’s important to separate the materials containing asbestos from less dangerous debris. When in doubt, hire a consultant to identify and remove asbestos-containing materials. Doing it wrong could wind up costing you a lot, as in some locations there are stiff fines for disposing of asbestos improperly.

Once the materials are separated, it is time to start the removal process. Any asbestos materials should be placed into a leak-proof bag, and then placed in a cardboard box, or another bag, to ensure it will not spill out or leak onto the ground. Remember to keep the materials wet, even as packing them up, to keep the fibers from releasing into the air.

If transporting materials yourself, line the bed of your truck with plastic, just to be sure any of the water used to wet the materials does not leak into the truck or spill onto the ground. Cover the materials with a tarp, sealing them in so the dust and debris will not fly off during transport, and put a sign on the dump truck that warns others that it contains asbestos materials.

Any materials containing asbestos should be taken to a landfill that accepts asbestos, so it can be discarded safely and properly. Then remove the clothing and shower well, to be sure no stray fibers are left on the skin.

Stay Safe!

There are a lot of things to worry about when big storms or natural disasters occur, and much of the time asbestos isn’t one of those things. Even if other pressing concerns exist, it is important to be aware of the dangers of asbestos when storms come around. Exposure to this dangerous substance now could be the source of a deadly disease, such as mesothelioma, later.