Oklahoma tornado destruction holds hidden dangers of asbestos and other toxins

23 May 2013 by under Events, News, Organizations

Tornado by NOAA 100x100 Oklahoma tornado destruction holds hidden dangers of asbestos and other toxinsIn the wake of this week’s devastating mile-wide tornado that leveled a wide swath of Moore, Okla., folks are mourning the loss of loved ones, the loss of their homes and in some cases their livelihoods. Survivors are pulling each other close and counting their blessings. People are taking a deep breath and surveying the damage, but thankful the danger has passed. However, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the (CDC) and other agencies urge caution as residents and volunteers descend on the town to begin the arduous task of cleanup. The rubble holds danger of its own, from toxins including asbestos and lead.

Similar reminders were issued after the recent Super Storm Sandy struck the coasts of New Jersey and New York, as well as during the aftermath of tornadoes that tore through Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2011.

Dr. Mark Keim, a physician working with the CDC in evaluating safety precautions in storm cleanup efforts, told the Huffington Post that people taking part in cleanup efforts should take precautions as if toxic substances such as asbestos were present, whether there is evidence or not. He recommended wearing gloves and respirators, and urged people to take frequent breaks and wash their hands before eating or touching their mouths. “If there is a dust hazard, whether there’s asbestos or not, you should be taking precautions,” he told HuffPo.

“As they search for their loved ones, the threat of asbestos is far from people’s minds,” Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), told HuffPo. “We know that residential areas were constructed with asbestos-contaminated products. After natural disasters, asbestos is a prevalent toxin.” Reinstein helped found the ADAO after her husband, Alan, passed away seven years ago from mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Established EPA guidelines outline procedures for dealing with debris and damaged buildings following natural disasters and weather emergencies. In the section about asbestos, the EPA states:

“Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur if asbestos-containing materials present in many older homes are disturbed. Pipe or other insulation, ceiling tiles, exterior siding, roof shingles and sprayed on-soundproofing are just some of the materials found in older buildings that may contain asbestos. Buildings constructed before 1970 are more likely to contain asbestos. Airborne asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings. Lead is a highly toxic metal which produces a range of adverse health effects, particularly in young children. Many homes built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint. Disturbance or removal of materials containing lead-based paint may result in elevated concentrations of lead dust in the air.”

The EPA estimates there may be as many as 35 million homes and other buildings in the United States that contain asbestos. The Huffington Post reports 2,600 tons of asbestos was eventually removed during cleanup following the Joplin, Mo., tornadoes.

Huffington Post

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