Asbestos and Hurricane Preparedness
The immediate and direct threats posed by hurricanes are so great that many people do not protect themselves against the indirect threats of a hurricane. Those who live in regions prone to hurricanes spend thousands of dollars reinforcing and protecting their homes. They stock up on canned foods, water, medicine, fuel, and batteries. However, a commonly unrecognized danger exists in hurricane regions – the danger of asbestos.
After a natural disaster, emergency workers focus on getting water and electricity to local residents. Cleanup efforts are first aimed at clearing roads. Emergency crews are trained in almost every eventuality they may face. However, training in asbestos-handling is still lacking. Many products still in use today are known to contain asbestos. These products can be found in homes, schools, offices, industrial buildings, and commercial centers. When these materials are intact and the asbestos is shielded, they pose no risk, but hurricanes can rip apart these products releasing asbestos fibers into the air and water. Workers often come into contact with asbestos-containing materials while they are repairing damaged buildings. Tearing apart damaged buildings so they can be rebuilt also may release dangerous asbestos fibers. Caution should be taken in any areas that may potentially be harboring asbestos.
Tips to Reduce Exposure Risk
- Always use caution during initial inspections. Never unnecessarily disturb any suspicious materials.
- If you must disturb or remove suspicious materials, wet them down first. This will keep asbestos from going airborne.
- Wear protective clothing and gear. This includes full-length clothing, gloves, boots, and HEPA air-filter masks.
- Call a professional abatement contractor to inspect the building for asbestos.
- Allow only professional abatement contractors to complete restoration when asbestos is present.
Avoiding asbestos requires understanding how to spot items that may contain it. Asbestos was used without restriction in great quantities from the turn of the 20th century through the 1970s. Over 3,000 types of products were manufactured from asbestos. One of the most common uses was as an insulator. Older buildings may still have traces of asbestos insulation. Other common materials included ceiling and floor tiles, cement, adhesives, roofing, shingles, and siding. Great care should be taken around any old plumbing or pipe insulation. Also, any old caulking, sealant, spackle, or paint should be held with suspicion. The only sure way to discover if a material contains asbestos is to have it professionally tested.