On August 29, 2005, the United States suffered extreme devastation at the hands of Hurricane Katrina, which blew into southern Louisiana as a category three hurricane and devastated the city of New Orleans. The federal flood protection system for the city failed, resulting in 53 breeched levees. The monstrous hurricane impacted parts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, resulting in $81.2 billion in damage. Residents in the southern Louisiana area were advised to evacuate, but thousands were either unable to do so, or simply refused. Those left behind were faced with dangerous toxins released into the environment due to the destruction. One of the deadly toxins released into the water, soil and air after the buildings toppled was asbestos.
The Environmental Protection Agency advised that any structures built before 1975 likely contained asbestos materials. The warning specified that large buildings built before 1975, in particular, may have used asbestos-containing building materials, including ceiling tiles, pipe wraps, siding and various other products. In fact, buildings, including homes, built after 1975 may have been constructed with materials containing asbestos as well.
Once inhaled or ingested, tiny asbestos fibers embed themselves in the lining of the lungs, heart, and abdomen. Once within these tissues, this carcinogen lays dormant for several years, or even decades, before exhibiting symptoms of diseases such as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer that mainly affects the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. Unfortunately, it is normally diagnosed after progressing to the later stages, making treatment extremely difficult. No cure for mesothelioma currently exists.
Those who did not evacuate were not the only ones exposed to asbestos. Those who came to aid with the cleanup and rebuilding of New Orleans also faced the risk of asbestos exposure. Reports indicate that 80 percent of the city flooded. If a building was not destroyed during the force of the storm, it still likely suffered significant damage from the standing water. Furthermore, the demolition of these buildings would have stirred up more asbestos, causing the dangerous fibers to be released into the atmosphere.
New Orleans Today
Nearly six years later, the city is still rebuilding. Debris from the hurricane still lingers throughout the city while many homes destroyed during the storm and its aftermath have not been demolished or properly cleaned up. The asbestos risk is still high and will likely remain so until these sources of asbestos exposure are eliminated. Unfortunately, the cleanup efforts will likely put the workers and residents of the city in further danger as concealed asbestos materials are disturbed.
Knabb, Richard D., Rhome, Jamie R. & Daniel P. Brown. (December 20, 2005) “Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Katrina 23-30 August 2005.” Retrieved on March 16, 2011 from the National Hurricane Center.