Everyone should be aware of the risk of asbestos-related cancer following natural disasters. Asbestos can be released into the air after a tornado, hurricane, massive thunderstorm, earthquake, tsunami, or other natural disaster that damages or levels buildings. It is the release of asbestos fibers into the air that presents a serious threat to individuals in the vicinity.
Asbestos exposure is a risk for numerous professionals, including emergency response workers. Unfortunately, Americans can now count terrorist attacks as another potential need for emergency response workers, who risk developing asbestos-related cancer every time they help at locations that have damaged buildings.
When Asbestos Is Disturbed in a Disaster
Asbestos is not harmful when it is left intact and in place. Thousands of products in our homes, office buildings, schools, libraries, theaters, and other buildings contain asbestos components that are not putting anyone at risk-unless, that is, a natural disaster tears the building apart or knocks it down. This greatly increases the risk that the asbestos will be damaged and the fibers released into the air where they can be inhaled by humans.
Building Components with Asbestos
The building materials that can provide asbestos exposure after a natural disaster include:
- Roofing materials
- Boiler and pipe insulation
- Transite boards used for acoustical purposes in theaters, music rooms, and auditoriums
- Floor tiles
First Responders Are at Risk of Developing Asbestos Cancer
More than 4,000 “first responders” (emergency response workers) were at the World Trade Center (WTC) towers within hours of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most of the September 11 first responders weren’t wearing protective respiratory gear when they worked at the site that later came to be called Ground Zero. There were toxic levels of asbestos and other contaminants in the air, such as benzene, lead, and dioxin.
Other notable disasters include:
- The Pentagon attack, also on September 11
- The hurricanes that destroyed thousands of buildings in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005
- The 1994 Southern California (“Northridge”) earthquake
- The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995
Hundreds of other lesser-known and smaller-scale disasters have been followed by the heroic actions of emergency response workers, and they, too, may have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos.
9/11 Emergency Response Workers Exposed to Asbestos Cancer
It was eventually confirmed that about three-quarters of the WTC emergency response workers developed respiratory problems, no doubt from the asbestos and other toxins they had been exposed to at the site. In fact, an emergency response worker with the New York Fire Department who worked at the WTC site died of mesothelioma in 2006.
The only confirmed cause of mesothelioma cancer is asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers, once inhaled, lodge themselves in the lungs and other organs and lead to serious, potentially fatal illnesses like mesothelioma cancer. Asbestos-related diseases may take decades to manifest themselves after the asbestos exposure.
Dealing with Asbestos after a Natural Disaster
When a natural disaster such as a wildfire, hurricane, or earthquake has occurred, emergency personnel are often deployed to begin a debris management program. Without the proper precautions, this can increase disaster relief workers’ cancer risk. The federal, state, and local governments each have a hand in the clean-up after a major natural disaster. In the best-case scenario, the problem of what to do with hazardous waste is dealt with by trained professionals, which should help minimize disaster relief workers’ cancer risk.
However, after natural disasters, asbestos precautions are important. Before the clean-up crews get to your area, you may be subjected to airborne asbestos. The natural disaster may have torn up, broken, or otherwise damaged parts of buildings that contained asbestos. The microscopic-sized fibers that make up asbestos may be floating in the air without you even realizing the danger. When humans or animals inhale asbestos fibers, the fibers lodge themselves in the lungs, where they can initiate a disease process that culminates in asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma cancer (cancer of the mesothelium).
Asbestos Guide after a Disaster
To minimize asbestos exposure after a natural disaster, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that property owners seek the guidance of public health authorities and certified asbestos contractors. Contact a lawyer for legal advice. An experienced attorney can help determine if you can seek compensation for your illness. If you’re an emergency response worker or if a member of your family has done such work, find out more about the risks of developing asbestos-related cancer, as well as treatment options, by contacting Mesothelioma Treatment Centers online today.