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Asbestos and Hurricanes

Hurrican Watch.pngHurricane season is upon us. Floridians especially are aware of what that entails. But it was just north of the southern state of Florida where Irene swept the east coast from the Carolinas to Vermont and caused power outages, flooding and an estimated tens of billions of dollars in damage. The roofs of many municipal and historical buildings were peeled off as well as those on some homes. The extensive damage has opened the doors to exposure to mold, sewage, chemicals, and asbestos.

What is Asbestos: Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals exploited commercially for their desirable physical properties. These mineral fibers have been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistant properties, asbestos has been used for a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.

When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, or in the event of a natural disasters such as a hurricane, microscopic fibers become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems.

After a hurricane, it is important that certain safety precautions are taken and every applicable safety regulation is adhered to. OSHA and the EPA have very strict guidelines that must be followed when dealing with asbestos. Following are some general rules for the average homeowner:

Asbestos Do’s And Don’ts for the Homeowner provided by the EPA

  • Do keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.
  • Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material.
  • Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by asbestos professionals.
  • Don’t dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.
  • Don’t saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials.
  • Don’t use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on a dry floor.
  • Don’t sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing, install new floor covering over it, if possible.
  • Don’t track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop. If the material is from a damaged area, or if a large area must be cleaned, call an asbestos professional.

Major repairs must be done only by a professional trained in methods for safely handling asbestos. Minor repairs should also be done by professionals since there is always a risk of exposure to fibers when asbestos is disturbed. Doing minor repairs yourself is not recommended since improper handling of asbestos materials can create a hazard where none existed.

Asbestos exposure can lead to such non-malignant conditions as Asbestosis and Pleural Disease and malignancies that include Laryngeal Cancer, Pharyngeal Cancer, Colon Cancer, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma. Because the latency period for an asbestos related condition can be 15 to 50 years, diagnosis is often difficult. The most common manner of asbestos exposure is occupational. A wide variety of industries and occupations made use of products that contained this economical, easily obtained, heat and chemical resistant mineral. A multitude of occupations within a variety worked directly with asbestos containing products are numerous. Additionally workers who did not necessarily handle asbestos or asbestos containing products directly were also exposed. When asbestos is disturbed, it becomes air born, can potentially travel hundreds of feet and can be inhaled by anyone in that vicinity.

Asbestos exposure still occurs today. Although new safety guidelines and regulations as well as public awareness have made the work place safer, the asbestos left behind from years ago, when disturbed today, can be lethal. Some of the biggest concerns after a natural disaster include availability of water and electricity, road access, and cleanup efforts, as well as financial, environmental, and human losses. Emergency management crews are trained to handle a vast variety of events and potential hazards, but few are trained on how to handle the threat of asbestos exposure in the wake of a natural disaster. Safety can be found in knowledge and preparedness.

medical reference books.jpgREFERENCES:

Asbestos in Your Home

What is Asbestos?

General Recommendations for Working in All (Hurricane) Impacted Areas