Clearing debris in Sandy’s path will expose many to high levels of asbestos

Those left in the wake or responding to the dangers created by Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast face many dangers and hardships in the coming days and chief among them could be the threat of asbestos exposure.

Hurricane Sandy eventually came ashore in southern New Jersey, causing widespread destruction over a several hundred-mile radius, from North Carolina to New York and New England states. In many of the states in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic, there are many buildings along the coast and inland that are rarely affected by such severe weather. That means, among the many destroyed or damaged homes and buildings are many older building materials that likely contain asbestos.

According to a report at, the risk of asbestos exposure created by the so-called “superstorm” has increased “significantly” since the storm passed through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, parts of Ohio, West Virginia, and New York. People working to clear the debris caused by Hurricane Sandy are most at risk. Asbestos fibers are sure to be flying through the air as emergency crews and construction workers press to clear damage and begin rebuilding.

The effects of asbestos exposure could be long-lasting and many people who’ve been exposed to high levels have developed serious health complications like mesothelioma, a serious and often fatal form of lung cancer. Those affected by asbestos exposure can expect to experience breathing difficulties and similar painful and life-threatening complications.

When these microscopic fibers are released into the air, they can easily be ingested by people working around the debris caused by the storm. Similar risks were noted during other recent natural disasters, including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Nearly all building materials used through much of the 1970s contained asbestos. Light fixtures, ceiling and floor tiles, window casings, pipes, and other materials all contain some level of asbestos. Ingesting these airborne fibers could lead to serious health complications, especially if the exposure is over long periods of time or in high concentrations, a situation certainly present following a disaster like Hurricane Sandy.

The “hybrid” storm flooded a wide swath of highly-populated areas of the Mid Atlantic and Northeast earlier this week. More than 30 people have died and the storm has caused billions of dollars in damage. New York’s subway system lay in ruin at the moment as floodwaters have covered the tracks. Shore towns in New Jersey, New York, and Delaware were battered with hurricane-strength winds for long periods of time. In many towns in several states, severe property damage was caused by the high winds, flooding rains and storm surge, scattering older building materials that will have to be cleared for rebuilding to occur.

In normal circumstances, asbestos could be cleared safely because it can be contained. Clearing the effects of a natural disaster do not present circumstances in which to remove asbestos safely so it will be on individual and contracted crews to provide workers with the proper equipment to remove debris containing asbestos as safely as possible.

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