Clean-up crews in Sandy’s wake face asbestos exposure risks


Hurricane Sandy put millions of lives in danger and the “super”storm’s effects could be long-lasting, especially the threat of asbestos exposure.

As the damaging winds, storm surge, flooding rains, and crippling snows covered a wide swath of territory from the shores of Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and New York to the hills of West Virginia and inland Pennsylvania, billions of dollars in property damage resulted. In many of these locations, especially in urban areas like Manhattan and other parts of New York City, older buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.

As these buildings crumbled or were battered in the storm, the relatively old building materials used to construct them were scattered and will have to be cleared. In the coming days and weeks, as the Mid Atlantic and Northeast begins the clean-up and rebuilding process, many of these older buildings will have to be either renovated or razed. As this continues, the crews assigned to clean up the damage will be exposed to high levels of asbestos.

Asbestos is a fibrous material that was used in an array of building materials through the 1970s in the U.S., until environmental regulations finally banned its used in most industrial and residential applications. Asbestos can be found in older ceiling and floor tiles, light fixtures, and even window casings.

To properly abate a building of its asbestos, special steps are taken to prevent or limit the exposure to asbestos fibers. When they are airborne, asbestos fibers can be easily ingested or inhaled. Once they’re inhaled, asbestos fibers can wreak havoc with a person’s health, causing breathing problems that become more difficult to treat over time.

Exposure to high levels of asbestos or prolonged exposure to asbestos could result in various forms of lung cancer, including mesothelioma, a condition affecting thousands of people who worked in industrial settings for years where asbestos was used prevalently.

As construction and clean-up crews respond to work clearing debris left by the former Hurricane Sandy, they’re likely to encounter high levels of asbestos, especially in more urban environments that were severely damaged by the effects of the storm. For many of these workers, they’ll not have access to the proper abatement tools that will prevent them from being exposed to asbestos fibers as they’re airborne.

This threat even extends to homeowners who opt to handle the clean-up duties from the storm themselves, according to a report at In a report this week on the site, experts advise that the potential unknown threats of asbestos exposure mean it is “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.”

Asbestos exposure was a serious threat to the thousands of workers who responded to the Ground Zero site following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. The falling World Trade Center towers spread asbestos and many other toxins over an area miles wide and put Ground Zero workers at a significant risk of developing health problems caused by exposure to the toxic material.

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