Asbestos has long been a known carcinogen so handling it must be done with great care. It’s important to know that when asbestos is in good condition, it does not usually present a hazard. However, when it is worn or damaged, fibers flake off and become airborne. At that point, it’s possible for anyone in the vicinity to inhale these toxic fibers, which can become imbedded in the chest. Years later, victims of asbestos exposure can develop serious asbestos-related diseases, like asbestosis or mesothelioma.
For decades, asbestos was handled haphazardly. Many people that encountered it on a daily basis while on-the-job were totally unaware of its toxicity, so no protective gear was worn to prevent inhalation. Furthermore, employers who knew of the dangers of asbestos rarely shared that information with employees, so asbestos contamination was widespread, especially during the peak of its use from the 1930s until the end of the 1970s.
Today, however, there are strict guidelines governing the handling of asbestos, and those who do not follow these rules are subject to fines and even imprisonment, depending on the extent of the mishandling. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has put these guidelines in place to protect not only those who handle asbestos as part of their job but also anyone else who may encounter the material at home, in school, in a commercial building, or elsewhere.
Asbestos in the Home
Though asbestos use essentially ended by 1980, there are many old homes that still contain asbestos insulation, flooring, ceiling tiles, shingles, siding, and other items. Hence, when renovation or demolition projects take place in the home, these items must be handled with care. Homeowners who perform do-it-yourself projects should NEVER remove or manipulate asbestos products on their own. A licensed asbestos abatement professional should always be hired to do this work. They know how to and when to remove asbestos (or when to simply encapsulate it) and they are able to properly dispose of the material as well.
Asbestos in the Workplace
Any workplace where employees may encounter asbestos materials must, by law, have an asbestos management plan in place. These means that all asbestos materials are identified and will be properly maintained at all times, and that those individuals who work with the material will be instructed as to proper handling to avoid any asbestos cancer hazard.
Furthermore, employees should never be expected to handle the removal of asbestos or take part in any demolition that may disturb asbestos materials. As with asbestos in the home, any asbestos in the workplace should be handled by licensed asbestos professionals who are trained in management, abatement, and disposal of the toxic material.
Hazardous waste is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as any material in liquid, solid, contained gas or sludge form that contains elements that are dangerous to humans and / or the environment. Asbestos is one form of hazardous waste that must be handled with specific precautions and by licensed professionals. There are other hazardous materials that also require special handling. Learn what they are in this section.
Asbestos from Natural Disasters
Natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes can result in significant damage to homes and commercial buildings. If these structures contain asbestos, the harmful particles may become friable, and can be inhaled by people, as well as pets. Often, those responsible for the recovery and clean up in the wake of a natural disaster, fire, or flood are exposed to harmful asbestos and are at risk for developing mesothelioma. But first responders and those assisting with rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts are not the only individuals at risk of exposure following a natural disaster or other catastrophic event. All people who are present in a location where asbestos fibers have become airborne face the risk of asbestos inhalation. For this reason, it is important to exercise proper handling precautions after natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and/or floods to ensure protection from possible asbestos exposure following these types of emergencies. Click on the links below to read about asbestos exposure associated with two common natural disasters:
Protecting Yourself from Asbestos Inhalation in an Emergency
The following factors indicate that you are likely to face asbestos exposure after a natural disaster:
- If your home was built before the mid-eighties and contains asbestos materials such as attic insulation, floor or ceiling tiles or piping insulation.
- If you are participating in recovery efforts in an area where asbestos materials are known to have been disturbed or damaged.
In an emergency situation, it is often up to the individuals to protect themselves from asbestos inhalation. If you live in a part of the country where natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, or severe windstorms are the norm, it is recommended that you put together an emergency kit that includes a mask that adequately covers the nose and mouth. The mask will not only protect you from asbestos inhalation, but from inhalation of other airborne chemicals and toxins as well. At home, the kit should include a mask for each family member and pet, as well as additional masks just in case. At the office, masks for each employee should be on hand in the event of an asbestos emergency. Also included in the emergency kit should be bottles of water. Not only will the water keep individuals hydrated in an emergency, but it can also be used to wet asbestos products – when wet, asbestos materials are less likely to become airborne, thus reducing one’s risk of exposure in an emergency situation. An asbestos emergency kit should also contain the following items:
Gloves, protective eyewear, disposable clothing and booties:Asbestos fibers can be transferred from one location to another on shoes, clothes, and other clothing items. It is imperative to wear disposable clothing items in an asbestos emergency to avoid this.
Garbage bags:If you must remove some asbestos materials on your own, before a licensed abatement professional can arrive, it is important to first wet the asbestos products using the water bottles in your emergency kit. Then, while wearing protective gloves and other outerwear, carefully place the asbestos materials into a garbage bag, and seal it completely. Bags with hazardous asbestos should be clearly marked. They cannot be disposed of just anywhere; asbestos waste must be disposed of in a designated landfill. Contact local authorities before disposing this type of waste following a natural disaster or other damaging event.
General Emergency Preparedness
Asbestos is obviously not the only health and safety hazard you will face following a disaster. In addition to stocking your emergency kit with asbestos protection items, there are other important items that should be included:
- Water and drinks containing electrolytes, for hydration
- Blankets and other clothing items – warm clothing in cooler climates, and breathable clothing that offers sun protection in climates where your body may be exposed to heat and sunlight
- A battery-operated radio
- Extra cell phone, fully charged, with a battery-operated charger. This emergency phone should be programmed with important numbers like local police and firefighters and emergency contacts
- Non-perishable food items for nourishment
- Identification for each family member or person who is likely to be in a home or other location following a disaster
- A general first aid kit and some type of first aid handbook
Find Asbestos Removal, Safety & Emergency Preparedness Resources
In an attempt to provide our visitors with as much asbestos removal, safety and emergency preparedness information as possible, we have developed the following directory search. Here you can find professional asbestos removal contractors as well as general safety and emergency preparedness resources near you. Simply select the “Asbestos Service” you are interested in and type your city and state abbreviation or zip code into the “Location” box below.
Environmental Protection Agency. Asbestos: Risk and Assessment. 2006.