The cleanup after a hurricane is often so extensive that the unseen dangers are frequently overlooked. Damaged homes and buildings must either be repaired or demolished and started anew. This can lead to the release of asbestos fibers into the air. The hazardous emissions of asbestos into the air may not even be realized during the cleanup and restoring process. Asbestos fibers can be deadly to humans. The fibers do not pose any immediate health risks, but 20 to 50 years down the road the exposure can cause serious health problems.
After Hurricane Hugo hit the South Carolina area in 1989, the EPA saw the need to factor in asbestos risks when planning disaster responses. Typically, first responders to the scene of a natural disaster are ill-prepared to handle asbestos exposure. The asbestos-containing materials are not always considered an immediate health hazard because the particles do not cause any immediate harm. However, because the fibers can potentially lead to life-threatening diseases, it is imperative asbestos is treated as a hazard.
If asbestos is known to be in a certain area, containment should be the first priority. If possible, the asbestos should be removed to a safe, designated dumping zone. If removal is impossible, safety gear should be worn at all times when dealing with the area. It is a good idea to hire a professional experienced with proper asbestos removal.
Unfortunately, professionally trained asbestos removers are hard to come by immediately following a natural disaster. This shortage often results in untrained personnel attempting to clean up and remove materials tainted with asbestos. This is a risky business because of the serious health hazards associated with asbestos. Mesothelioma is directly linked to asbestos exposure. Asbestos-containing materials not disposed of properly can pose a health risk for a large portion of the public.
A combination of government agencies has devised a plan of action regarding the removal of asbestos materials following a major event. Some of the guidelines give tips on preventing the risk of asbestos being improperly handled. Bigger, better equipped landfills will be needed to handle the influx of debris needing proper disposal following a disaster in order to protect the public’s safety.