Following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the east coast, remnants of damaged structures were everywhere. As cleanup began, concern about asbestos exposure during the cleanup process climbed. As a result of destruction from the storm, asbestos fibers from buildings and products made with asbestos were released into the air. Individuals who came into close contact with asbestos-heavy sites were at risk to inhale the fibers.

Encountering harmful elements in the remnants of a natural disaster is not uncommon. In fact, cleanup activities following any natural disaster can result in substantial health and environmental challenges. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urges everyone to exercise extreme caution when dealing with debris that may contain asbestos. Asbestos-containing products that are commonly damaged in natural disasters can include:

  • Boiler/pipe insulation
  • Floor tiles
  • Asbestos roofing
  • Fireproofing
  • Exterior siding
  • And more

How to Respond to Asbestos Found in Debris

If asbestos-containing products are damaged in natural disasters, especially in older buildings and homes, practice extreme caution. The EPA states that buildings built prior to 1970 are the most likely to contain asbestos. Disturbing or removing asbestos debris can prove harmful to your health and even lead to conditions like mesothelioma or lung cancer. To avoid this, the EPA suggests practicing the following cautions:

  • If you know your home or building contains asbestos products, like any of the materials listed above, request assistance from trained asbestos professionals. There are a number of regional resources available to you, whether it’s a company that specializes in asbestos removal in Denver, New Jersey, California or anywhere else around the Midwest. You can also turn to national organizations like the EPA or the Environmental Information Association (https://www.eia-usa.org/contacts/state-chapters/).
  • If you must handle products contaminated with asbestos, at a minimum you should wear gloves, goggles and OSHA-approved respiratory equipment.
  • Avoid activities that will generate dust, like sweeping or vacuuming debris.
  • Do not saw, scrape, break or drill into any asbestos-containing products.
  • Do not use any abrasive pads or sanding materials on any debris that may contain asbestos.
  • If possible, avoid being around any asbestos products and let a trained professional take the proper measures to remove the materials. If you can’t leave the area, seal it off.

When dealing with structural damage from a natural disaster, the safest thing to do is contact a professional company to remove the harmful materials in the proper way.  Natural disasters can also cause leaking natural gas lines, carbon monoxide poisoning, or increased moisture and the presence of harmful bacteria or mold.   

Learn more about the EPA’s role in dealing with asbestos in debris following a natural disaster or more information on common asbestos products