Hurricane Sandy: Toxic Asbestos Risk in Rescue, Clean-Up, and Rebuilding

The collateral damage for Hurricane Sandy won’t be tallied for decades.  

There is a great deal of chatter on the news about construction scams, but nothing was being said about the toxic risk of asbestos until the Huffington Post published "Asbestos May Pose Health Hazards In Hurricane Sandy’s Wake." Most Americans don’t know that asbestos is a human carcinogen and are unaware about how to prevent hazardous asbestos debris exposure. During the clean-up and rebuilding following Hurricane Sandy, there will be asbestos exposure, as some building materials contain asbestos roofing, tiles, insulation  cement, insulation, and more.  

As I remind Congress, “History is a great teacher to those who listen.”  But reminders about history and prevention have fallen on deaf ears. 

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that up to 35 million homes, schools, and office buildings contain asbestos materials.
  • An estimated 2,600 tons of asbestos debris was removed after the Joplin, Missouri tornado in 2011.
  • An estimated 2,000 tons of asbestos fibers were released into the air after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported that U.S. consumption of asbestos increased 13% from 2010 to 2011 in order to meet “manufacturing needs.”

In an ongoing effort to prevent asbestos exposure and eliminate asbestos-caused disease, I published a new PowerPoint online today Preventing Hazardous Asbestos Debris Exposure”.

If you suspect that your home, school, or office building may contain asbestos materials:

  • Follow established EPA and OSHA guidelines and regulations
  • Hire a professional for testing, abatement, and/or disposal
  • Do not disturb, create, or breathe the dust
  • Use OSHA-approved respiratory protection when handling asbestos debris.  At a minimum, wear gloves and goggles when handling asbestos debris.

The EPA page, "Dealing with Debris and Damaged Buildings," and OSHA Fact Sheet, "Protecting Workers from Asbestos Hazards," are recommended resources. 

Asbestos-caused diseases, including mesothelioma, are preventable. The pain of watching my husband die from the preventable disease of mesothelioma was devastating. My devastation is compounded by Congress’ unwillingness to prohibit imports and ban asbestos.