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What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of flexible fibers that are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. These qualities make the mineral useful. However, asbestos exposure is highly toxic.

Asbestos was widely used in construction as an effective insulator, and it can be added to cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other materials to make them stronger. But when asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, the fibers can become permanently trapped in the body. Over decades, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage.

Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and other health conditions like COPD. A rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos also causes a progressive lung disease called asbestosis. The carcinogenic qualities of the mineral are what makes asbestos dangerous.

Hurricanes and Asbestos Exposure

Hurricanes present three primary sources of destruction: Powerful winds, storm surge and rain. Storm surges lead to flooding along coastlines, damaging homes, hotels and public spaces. Powerful winds and tornadoes can destroy homes and buildings, while heavy rains cause flash floods.

9,375,000 cubic feet of debris transported from New Orleans homes to nearby landfills following Hurricane Katrina contained asbestos.

Debris can expose homeowners, emergency workers and volunteers participating in the cleanup process to hazardous materials that can contain asbestos. The amount of debris that piles up after a hurricane is significant and can quickly overwhelm a community and breakdown normally strict guidelines for handling hazardous materials.

How to Prevent Asbestos Exposure After a Hurricane

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from asbestos exposure after a hurricane is to wear safety equipment during cleanup and restoration efforts. This includes a NIOSH-approved N-100 or P-100 respirator and other protective gear such as googles, gloves, boots and disposable coveralls.

Cleaning After A Hurricane

Wet down any debris that may contain asbestos. This is a basic abatement procedure that reduces fiber release. Amended water (water mixed with surfactant chemicals such as dish soap) is often used to wet asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) during repair or removal operations.

Double-bag materials while wet. If ACMs are highly friable, such as attic insulation, it should be sealed in a leak-tight container while wet, labeled, and disposed of in a landfill qualified to receive asbestos waste.

Wear a NIOSH-approved respirator mask at all times and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean up dust, ash and other particulate matter.

Should I See A Doctor?

You should see a doctor if you start to develop respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms. Tell your doctor about your history of asbestos exposure and ask them to screen you for related diseases. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is extremely important to get a second opinion from a mesothelioma doctor.

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