Extreme weather is a concern for many reasons, not the least of which is the destruction it can leave in its wake. Floods, fires and hurricanes can leave entire towns destroyed and residents facing the incredible task of rebuilding.
One threat that people may not think about after an extreme weather event is the potential for exposure to toxic materials, including asbestos.
Mother Nature versus a natural fiber
Asbestos occurs naturally in various rock types, and there are several mines across the U.S. These fibers are generally not harmful unless someone or something disturbs them.
When a fire, hurricane, tornado or other natural disaster tears through an area, the events can damage naturally occurring asbestos. The asbestos can be released in the air and contaminate soil, plants and water nearby, thereby posing a threat for potential toxic exposure.
Other asbestos concerns after a storm
It is not just the naturally occurring asbestos that parties must worry about after an extreme weather event. Countless homes and buildings contain asbestos. It was widely used in:
- Roofing materials
- Floor tiles
- HVAC ducts
Thus, when storms damage or demolish structures, they disturb the fibers, making the asbestos easy to breathe in or ingest.
How to protect yourself
Whether you are a firefighter, volunteer or homeowner, you would be wise to protect yourself against the potential for asbestos exposure.
While the immediate concern after a fire or storm will typically be to address gas leaks, unstable infrastructure and electrical hazards, you can still protect yourself against the threat of asbestos.
It will generally be safer for individuals to let professionals handle the containment and disposal of debris after a fire, flood or storm.
That said, if you must handle building materials, wearing protective gear like respirators, boots and gloves will be crucial. Sealing off asbestos-containing materials in plastic can contain the fibers, as can double-bagging debris that could contain asbestos. And wet down any friable (easy to crumble) materials before handling them.
Rebuilding after an extreme weather event
Rebuilding homes and families after a weather threat subsides can be immensely challenging. And while you may rightly prioritize your immediate safety and that of your family, do not overlook the long-term damage that can come from toxic asbestos exposure.