Joplin, Missouri is still reeling from the devastating tornado that slammed into the area, leveling a third of the city and killing more than a hundred people. While the area is struggling to rebuild, they face a hidden danger lurking in the debris. The rubble scattered in the street most likely contains household and medical waste products, fuel lines ruptured during the event, and asbestos from older buildings. Any one of these hazards could poison residents and those there to aid in the clean-up effort.
Asbestos is of specific concern, as its presence would be very difficult to detect. The carcinogenic mineral was previously used in more than 3,000 products ranging from construction materials to oven mitts. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization has estimated that 35 million homes have a deadly, asbestos-tainted insulation called Zonolite – a staggering number for just one, specific asbestos-containing product.
Asbestos can be present in almost anything, and the only way to know for sure if the debris is contaminated is if it is labeled or has been tested by a professional asbestos inspector. To avoid possible exposure to this poison, the Mesothelioma Resource Center urges residents to wet down debris before handling them to reduce the threat of airborne asbestos and to place all materials into leak proof containers so they can be shipped to the proper landfill. Following these actions will greatly reduce possible asbestos exposure. However, if you do identify asbestos, you should not disrupt the material and contact a trained professional to safely remove it.
Exposure to asbestos has been linked to serious diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. It is crucial that all precautions are taken to avoid contaminating yourself or others. Tragedies such as the one that hit Joplin remind us why we must take steps to ban asbestos. If this material was not present, it would greatly reduce some of the risks facing those who are preparing to rebuild.