Colorado floods uncover asbestos contamination hazards in debris

24 Sep 2013 by under Events, News

Colorado flood damage photo by ABC7 news 100x100 Colorado floods uncover asbestos contamination hazards in debrisThe recent devastating floods in Colorado have left in their wake another danger, from asbestos in the debris of damaged homes and other buildings. A state-certified asbestos inspector estimates one in three homes in Colorado contains asbestos.

Asbestos was commonly used in construction up until the 1970s for a variety of uses including insulation and fire protection. But even after its use was largely banned in the United States, some products containing asbestos were still imported from Canada and Mexico. While asbestos usually does not pose a hazard in structures as long as it is not disturbed, when it is broken or crushed, as it is in homes damaged by flood waters or in clearing debris – it may release microscopic fibers that can cause serious health problems, including mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs or abdomen. It may have a long latency period – as much as 40 years or more – between asbestos exposure and the development of symptoms. There is no known cure for mesothelioma. Asbestos may also cause other respiratory illnesses like asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs.

Despite the danger posed by debris cleanup, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) relaxed state requirements for asbestos cleanup and removal at sites affected by the . The reason for this decision was to “enable timely cleanup of flood debris,” according to flood cleanup guidance released in the wake of the disaster. In the flood cleanup guidelines, the CDPHE says if debris is not known to contain asbestos “the material may be handled as non-asbestos flood debris and disposed of at a permitted landfill.”

However, after an industrial hygienist and state-certified asbestos instructor expressed concerns about the danger to residents and , the CDPHE has revised its guidance slightly. It now notes the agency “waives requirement for a certified asbestos inspector to have a Colorado license” but that “federal requirements from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and DOT (Department of Transportation) still apply, which protects worker health & safety, and the general public via transporting hazardous materials.”

“The safety of our citizens, first responders and cleanup crews is our number one priority,” Will Allison, CDPHE Director of Air Pollution Control told ABC 7 News investigative reporter Keli Rabon.

Source: ABC 7

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