Preventing Hazardous Asbestos Debris Exposure after Disasters

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Susan Kates salvages items from a friend’s tornado-ravaged home Wednesday in Moore, Okla., where experts warn of health risks in the cleanup. (AP/Charlie Riedel)

The collateral damage from the Oklahoma Tornado won’t be tallied for decades.  I urge you all to read the excellent The Huffington Post article “Oklahoma Tornado Health Risks May Lie In The Rubble

Most Americans don’t know that asbestos is a human carcinogen and are unaware about how to prevent hazardous asbestos debris exposure. During the search, rescue, recovery, clean-up and rebuilding following Oklahoma Tornado, there will be asbestos exposure, as some building materials contain asbestos roofing, tiles, insulation  cement, insulation, and more.

As I remind Congress, “History is a great teacher to those who listen.”  But reminders about history and prevention have fallen on deaf ears.

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that up to 35 million homes, schools, and office buildings contain asbestos materials.
  • An estimated 2,600 tons of asbestos debris was removed after the Joplin, Missouri tornado in 2011.
  • An estimated 2,000 tons of asbestos fibers were released into the air after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported that U.S. consumption of asbestos increased 13% from 2010 to 2011 in order to meet “manufacturing needs.”

In an ongoing effort to prevent asbestos exposure and eliminate asbestos-caused disease, I published the Preventing Hazardous Asbestos Debris Exposure” PowerPoint.

If you suspect that your home, school, or office building may contain asbestos materials:

  • Follow established EPA and OSHA guidelines and regulations
  • Hire a professional for testing, abatement, and/or disposal
  • Do not disturb, create, or breathe the dust
  • Use OSHA-approved respiratory protection when handling asbestos debris.  At a minimum, wear gloves and goggles when handling asbestos debris.

The EPA page, “Dealing with Debris and Damaged Buildings,” and OSHA Fact Sheet, “Protecting Workers from Asbestos Hazards,” are recommended resources.

Asbestos-caused diseases, including mesothelioma, are preventable. The pain of watching my husband die from the preventable disease of mesothelioma was devastating. My devastation is compounded by Congress’ unwillingness to prohibit imports and ban asbestos.

Together, change is possible.

Linda

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