Asbestos and Floods

No matter how a flood is caused, whether it is from a river, the ocean, or even internal plumbing, it can cause major damage to any type of building or structure. Cleaning up flood damage can require hundreds of workers and thousands of man-hours to tear down, haul, dispose of material, repair, and renovate. Some damage is so thorough that demolition is the only option. Each of these activities has the potential of releasing asbestos into the surrounding air.

Asbestos in Damaged Buildings

Asbestos is still present in many buildings. Flood damage can tear apart asbestos, which causes microscopic fibers to be released into the air and the water. Even if the asbestos is too water-laden to get into the air, it can stick to clothing, dry, and be released into the air at a later time. Some flood cleanup efforts can take months to complete, meaning exposure can come at any time, even if not initially present. Some of the building materials from which asbestos can be released during any type of flooding includes insulation, cement, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, roofing, spray on wall and ceiling coating, and adhesives. Any of these materials can be present at flood sites, requiring professional removal to reduce or eliminate the potential of exposure. Flood cleanup personnel are responsible for demolition, salvage, material removal, repair, and renovation of flood sites where structures are present. Because of the danger of asbestos exposure at flood sites, such workers are protected by the OSHA Construction Industry Asbestos Standard. This law requires all flood cleanup personnel to be protected by their employers by adhering to strict procedural policy.

Flood Site Policies

  • The permissible limit of asbestos exposure is 0.1 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air over an eight-hour time period with a limit of 1.0 asbestos fibers in any 30-minute time period.
  • Asbestos levels must be periodically monitored.
  • Engineering controls must be put in place to eliminate asbestos exposure. When such controls are impossible to implement, controls must be put in place to limit exposure to the lowest possible levels.
  • Access to the site must be limited when asbestos is present in dangerous quantities.
  • Eating, drinking, and smoking are not permitted in the area.
  • Warning signs and cautionary labels must be used to identify hazardous areas or materials.
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