Tornados are among the most destructive natural disasters since their extremely high winds can damage even the most sturdily-built of structures. However, even after the funnel cloud has passed, danger may still be present. Tornados have the potential to ruin materials that contain asbestos, therefore making small fibers of the mineral airborne. Asbestos can cause major health issues, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Contamination in Iowa

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency was called in to investigate the impact of a tornado in Parkersburg, Iowa. The tornado itself caused eight fatalities, but the Environmental Protection Agency was there to evaluate the asbestos levels. Another tornado in 2008 led the Colorado Department of Public Health to issue a warning to residents regarding asbestos levels. People were advised to avoid materials that may contain asbestos, including drywall, shingles, plaster, and insulation.

Dangers of Asbestos

Asbestos was widely used in the twentieth century. It gained popularity due to its cheap costs and excellent insulation abilities. However, it was discovered that asbestos particles led to major health concerns. Particles can attach to the lining around the lungs. As the body tries to fight them, scar tissue develops. As time goes on, conditions such as mesothelioma or lung cancer can develop. Mesothelioma has a long latency period. It can be 20 to 50 years before it is discovered. By that time, the cancer has usually spread to other areas of the body. Because of this, the prognosis for the disease is usually dire.

Asbestos Cleanup

Across the United States, health departments play an active role in cleaning up after disasters such as tornados. The removal of debris is a delicate situation. The health departments are responsible for establishing guidelines that ensure safety procedures are put in place. They must also make sure they comply with asbestos regulations, provide workers with respiratory protection, and measure the air for the presence of asbestos particles. All of these tasks are essential during the cleaning effort that comes with tornado damage.

It is best to contact the health department instead of trying to remove debris alone. A person runs the risk of damaging materials and releasing asbestos particles in the air. If there is a possibility that a house damaged during a tornado might have materials that are releasing asbestos, they should be kept wet until professionals arrive. This can prevent particles from spreading.


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