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Storm damage? Beware of asbestos exposure during cleanup

With heavy storms and the remnants of hurricanes likely, it's important to remember that many structures may contain asbestos. The microscopic mineral fiber can lie quietly in your home or building for decades but can become even more dangerous once disturbed.

Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause several deadly diseases, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. You probably won't know if you inhale asbestos fibers, and the symptoms of these diseases may not arise for decades. It is crucial to avoid exposure to asbestos.

The storm cleanup process is one situation where you could easily encounter asbestos materials. It was used in many components of residential and commercial buildings, such as:

  • Insulation, including pipe and boiler insulation
  • Asbestos-cement pipes and sheeting
  • Heat duct wrappings
  • Joint tape, joint compound
  • Drywall
  • Floor tile, including linoleum
  • Certain types of siding
  • Roof tiles, tar, felt and shingles
  • Ceiling tiles and "popcorn" ceilings
  • Sprayed-on textures and coatings

If your property was damaged, you should assume there is an asbestos hazard. Even if your neighbors are doing their own cleanup, you should consider having a licensed asbestos-abatement professional evaluate your property for asbestos-based materials before you do anything.

Depending on the results of your property evaluation, you may need professional asbestos abatement. This may require you to move out of your property while the abatement proceeds.

If you undertake cleanup activities yourself, here are some tips for safer removal of asbestos-laden materials:

  • Minimize disturbing construction materials. Try not to break construction materials, as this can release asbestos more fibers into the air. Only disturb those materials you must remove.
  • If you encounter materials that could contain asbestos, wet them to minimize the dust. Watch out for electrical hazards before you wet construction components.
  • Never burn materials that could contain asbestos.
  • Before disposal, contact your local landfill or transfer station for the proper disposal requirements.
  • Whenever you are working or are around asbestos materials, wear a respirator or at least an N-95 mask to reduce inhalation of asbestos fibers.

Asbestos is not the only danger in storm clean-up work, but you should assume the danger is there. If you have to clean up after a disaster, do your best to avoid breathing deadly asbestos fibers.

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