• Asbestos: The Hidden Catastrophe in Hurricane Cleanup
  • November 29, 2017
  • Hurricane Cleanup is Taking Place in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

    As Americans come together to rebuild and help our neighbors after hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, it is likely the last thing on one’s mind to worry about is a hazardous material like asbestos. The reality is that it should be a concern at the forefront of our thinking, and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) urges us to adhere to federal guidelines in order to protect public health. Along these same lines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that “cleanup activities related to returning to homes and businesses after a disaster [such as in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico] can pose significant health and environmental challenges.”

    When property owners and remediation professionals do begin removing damaged and soaked building materials, furnishings, and personal belongings, new safety concerns need to be addressed. This is due to the fact that lead-based paints and asbestos-containing materials are present in many damaged properties. Exposure to these materials during cleanup, demolition and rebuilding efforts could put people at risk to things such as asbestos related illnesses.

    What is Asbestos, and Where is it Found?

    Asbestos is a fibrous mineral known for its insulating and fire-retardant properties. Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur if asbestos-containing materials present in many older homes are disturbed. Pipe or other insulation, ceiling tiles, exterior siding, roof shingles and sprayed on-soundproofing are just some of the materials found in older buildings that may contain asbestos. Buildings constructed before 1970 are more likely to contain asbestos.

    Asbestos that becomes airborne can be inhaled or ingested and become lodged in the lining of internal organs, which leads to inflammation and can cause cellular changes that lead to the development of cancer. Natural disasters prove an especially difficult circumstance because blighted structures are usually structurally unsound and need to be demolished for safety reasons, though demolition could pose a health hazard if the building contains asbestos.

    What Should You Do If You Suspect a Building Has Asbestos?

    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.

    “Over time, asbestos containing products dry out and become brittle,” explains Scott L. Frost, partner with Waters Kraus & Paul, mesothelioma lawyers in Los Angeles. “When the products are disturbed during demolition or remodeling, asbestos fibers are released into the air, posing a danger to those nearby.”