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September 13, 2017

Asbestos Exposure After A Natural Disaster

Asbestos was a popular building material with widespread use throughout much the of mid-20th century. It found its way into millions of homes and by 1980, floor tiles, pipe insulation, block insulation, roofing, ceiling tile, taping compounds, cement, and plasters all contained the deadly carcinogen. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that up to 35 million schools, homes, office buildings, and other structures contain asbestos materials. Asbestos fibers are small, thin, sharp, easily inhaled, and over time, can lead to serious and life-threatening illnesses such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

Even though asbestos is a known carcinogen and can be found in most buildings and structures that are over 40 years old, if the fibers are not exposed/airborne, then the fibers do not pose any immediate threat to one’s health.  However, common household materials and structures have the potential to become a hazard that could affect entire communities in the event that the asbestos is disturbed after a natural disaster. Building structures and homes can be burned, ripped apart, and washed away, exposing the public to these tiny, needle-sharp fibers that remain dormant in the body for decades.

Fire
Even though asbestos is a fire retardant, many structures still manage to catch fire, exposing asbestos through damaged walls that contained insulation, or by simply being a part of the debris leftover by ash. Since these fibers are light and nearly impossible to see with the naked eye, asbestos fibers are able to become mobile through the smoke and debris left behind after a devastating fire. Fires that have wiped out entire blocks left residents digging through their belongings days later, trying to salvage what they can. It is completely legal to do so, and if the damaged area was not tested for asbestos, the survivors would be unknowingly be exposing themselves to the carcinogen.

Flooding
Water damage from floods damage and destroy buildings and easily break down asbestos fibers located in the floors, ceilings, and drywall. Once exposed areas dry, the once encapsulated asbestos fibers are now airborne, and can be easily inhaled during clean-up. Natural, unmined asbestos can become exposed when crushed, or displaced by floods and landslides. Residents affected by the natural disaster eventually return to sift through their belongings, to begin the process of healing and rebuilding. When particularly devastating damage occurs like that of a hurricane, the amount of flooding and debris can be so significant, that the necessary precautions may be overlooked if the community is overwhelmed.

Earthquakes and Tornados
An earthquake or a tornado may only last mere minutes, but the effects of these natural disasters could last a lifetime, with some communities unable to ever properly recover.  Cracks in the foundation weaken anything from skyscrapers, to apartment buildings, and because asbestos was used in roofing, walls, window awnings, and bathrooms, any damaged room has the potential for asbestos exposure. Clean-up often involves breaking down and disposing of crumbled asbestos-containing material  and developing waste piles that could endanger homeowners, clean- up crews, and anyone living in the general vicinity.

Protect Yourself
There is no safe level of asbestos exposure and in the event of a devastating natural disaster, it’s important to remain vigilant and follow safe strategies established by the EPA and OSHA. Do not disturb the dust unless you are wearing OSHA approved breathing masks, goggles, and gloves. Hiring a professional asbestos abatement worker to test and safely remove the carcinogen is an effective way to ensure that your property is free of asbestos and is able to be rebuilt.

Contact an Attorney
Asbestos, while still legal in the United States, is heavily regulated and not used in common household items and building materials as often as it once was. Unfortunately, the negative effects of asbestos exposure continue to plague society by causing mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer decades after initial exposure. Occupational asbestos exposure has sickened thousands of construction and steel workers, shipyard workers, electricians, and other tradesmen who were unaware of the dangers of asbestos, and continued to work with and handle the carcinogen.  Despite decades of knowing these dangers, companies withheld, downplayed, and ignored the issue until a series of lawsuits in the 1970s forced these companies to admit their responsibilities.  Those first asbestos lawsuits paved the way for modern asbestos litigation; a journey that Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C., has been a part of since the very beginning.  If you are suffering from an asbestos-caused illness, contact us via our web-form or call 1-800-COMPLEX for a free, no obligation consultation.

 

Sources:
Environmental Protection Agency “Dealing with Debris and Damaged Buildings.” [Link]

Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, “Stay Safe From Asbestos After the Storm – Resources and Strategies,  (September 8, 2017). [Link]

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