The moniker “Frankenstorm” seems to have been an appropriate one for Hurricane Sandy, which caused havoc for an estimated one-third of the United States this week, resulting in nearly 100 deaths in the Caribbean and on the U.S. mainland.
Left behind in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy are homes, schools, factories, and other commercial buildings in various states of disrepair, from those with minor damage to others that have been completely obliterated. In Queens, NY, for example, an entire neighborhood was gutted by fire and at least 100 homes were lost in that area alone. Americans up and down the East Coast now must begin to pick up the pieces….literally.
Cleaning up after a storm is never an easy task but it’s one that many homeowners choose to take on themselves. Sifting through the debris, they look for treasured photos, favorite toys, and other souvenirs of a life before the storm. Their reaction is normal but not necessarily safe. All sorts of hazards lie in the post-storm debris, including asbestos, which was a common component in building materials for more than three-quarters of the 20th century.
For decades, asbestos was used in items such as siding, roof shingles, insulation, dry wall tape, adhesives, cement, and many other building materials. This is because asbestos is highly fire- and heat-resistant and adds to a product’s durability and overall life. What weren’t always clear, however, were the dangers of asbestos, so its use continued until the 1970s. Specifically, when asbestos is damaged it releases tiny fibers into the air, where they can be inhaled. These ingested fibers can cause myriad lung-related diseases, including the very serious cancer known as mesothelioma.
The presence of asbestos after a storm is a serious issue. In New York City, after the World Trade Center towers fell, experts say there was a large amount of asbestos in the debris left behind. As a matter of fact, some first responders were diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases just a few years after 9/11. That means the concentration of asbestos was so toxic that diseases that normally take decades to develop were evident in less than five years.
Individuals were also exposed to asbestos-containing materials in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and after myriad other natural disasters that destroyed homes and other buildings that contained this toxic material. That makes it all the more important for anyone attempting clean-up to proceed with caution, wearing respirators and other protective gear to avoid asbestos exposure. Better yet, it is most sensible for those affected by the storm to hire professionals to clear the debris, if possible.