The recent tornado that tore through Moore, Oklahoma is a national tragedy. Houses, schools and other structures were devastated, and at least 24 people, including nine children, died.
At a time when survivors are overwhelmed by several pressing needs – relocating loved ones and pets, finding adequate shelter, tending to injuries – it’s easy to forget that going through the wreckage can be a very dangerous venture. Among the debris are several hazards, including asbestos exposure. It’s important for all of us in the nation to come together and extend whatever help we can, and at Kazan Law, we’re going to take this as an opportunity to go over some of the safety concerns that surround tornado wreckage.
Where is asbestos found in such a disaster?
Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was quite prevalent in building and construction materials because of physical properties that made it resistant to heat and friction. Once the scientific link between asbestos and deadly diseases such as malignant mesothelioma was established, a growing number of government officials and responsible companies began to reduce their use of this mineral. Still, the asbestos industry successfully lobbied to allow the material to remain a part of the manufacturing process of several products.
When it comes to buildings devastated by tornadoes, asbestos exposure is a risk if the structures had millboard, vermiculite, roofing felt, vinyl flooring, pipeline wrap and asbestos cement products, including corrugated sheets, flat sheets, pipes and shingles.
The Environmental Protection Agency and other government groups have learned a lot from past disasters, such as the tornado that struck parts of Missouri in 2011. Namely, there’s no easy way of telling whether parts of the wreckage contain asbestos unless homeowners remember if the products were clearly labeled. Otherwise, specially trained experts need to conduct scientific analyses. Whenever homeowners are in doubt, they should leave the cleanup work to licensed contractors who know how to handle asbestos.
During cleanup efforts, workers can decrease the risk of asbestos exposure by wearing N-100, P-100 or R-100 respirators that have been approved for use by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
In case it’s absolutely necessary for non-trained individuals to handle the wreckage, they can help reduce the asbestos dangers by wetting the debris with water first. Anything that gets discarded should be stored in leak-proof containers.
You can help the survivors
Protection from asbestos is always necessary, but let’s not forget that survivors are going to need a lot more help in the next few weeks. Even if you live thousands of miles away from Oklahoma, there’s still a lot that you can do to help people in need. Several organizations are collecting monetary donations:
- The American Red Cross. You can easily contribute $10 to relief efforts by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999.
- The Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief fund. Sending checks to BGCO, Attn: Disaster Relief, 3800 N. May Ave., Oklahoma City, OK, 73112.
- United Way of Central Oklahoma. Mail checks to the United Way of Central Oklahoma, P.O. Box 837, Oklahoma City, OK, 73101. Write “May Tornado Relief” in the memo.
Many of these groups, and more, also accept donations through their websites.
In addition to making monetary contributions, remember that medical needs are also pressing. During these times of disaster, consider donating blood to your local Red Cross chapter or other blood bank.