Asbestos and Earthquakes
Earthquakes can cause severe damage to homes and buildings, but the danger from the resulting damage is often just as bad. Any structures built with asbestos containing materials pose a threat during and after an earthquake. The shaking can disturb the asbestos causing fibers to be released into the atmosphere. Once these dangerous fibers are released into the environment, any humans around the area are at risk of inhaling the asbestos. The inhaled fibers can lead to asbestosis or mesothelioma. Both conditions do not present any immediate symptoms. The fibers lay dormant within the body for several decades before symptoms begin. Unfortunately, this extensive latency period of 20 to 50 years usually results in the diseases being caught in the later stages.
One particular incident of an earthquake causing extensive structure damage is the one that occurred in San Francisco in 1989. Many buildings containing asbestos materials were damaged or destroyed. The Haiti earthquake in January of 2010 is another example of asbestos insulated buildings that are now affecting the area due to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that crumbled the buildings making the asbestos airborne. The EPA began to realize the threat of asbestos exposure following a natural disaster. Homeowners who suspect their home may contain asbestos materials should call an inspector to have testing done. If tests indicate the home does contain asbestos, it is important to have a professional remove the materials and dispose of them properly. If damage to a home constructed with asbestos materials has already occurred, it is imperative to exercise caution during the cleanup process.
After a natural disaster, volunteers and other cleanup workers are most likely unaware of the possibility of asbestos exposure. These same workers and residents will probably not have access or be given proper safety attire to protect against the dangerous asbestos fibers. People can protect themselves by keeping the asbestos-containing materials wet. This lowers the risk of the fibers floating into the air. Cleanup should only be handled by individuals that have proper protective gear. The best way to avoid asbestos inhalation is by removing the threat prior to a natural disaster. This can lessen the impact of an already devastating event. It is important to keep in mind that although one structure is asbestos free, a nearby building can pose the same asbestos threat. The fibers are released into the air and can travel from one area to the next. Reference: