Floods and Asbestos-Containing Products Being Disturbed
The warm spring and summer days may feel good when relaxing outdoors, but the warmer weather brings about a season of possible disasters. Heavy summer rainfall can often cause flooding, the most frequent type of natural disaster.
Floods pose high risks for asbestos exposure in older homes since houses built before the 80s abound in asbestos-containing materials. Inundation can significantly damage the integrity of buildings or other structures containing asbestos. Water-damaged asbestos products can become friable when they dry and release toxic fibers into the air.
Asbestos products are safe until damaged and disturbed. But given that flood waters deteriorate the asbestos-containing construction products, the bonding cement breaks down - without bonding material, the asbestos fibers can float on the surface and become airborne after the water recedes. Moreover, certain types of asbestos fibers are waterproof and can settle on the water's surface, posing the risk of inhaling. A flooded home becomes a potential source of asbestos exposure due to breakage in:
- ceiling and floor tiles
- sheet roofing
- cement board
Asbestos fibers released into the air are difficult to detect as they are microscopic. The particles can travel through the air in dust clouds after severe weather and natural disasters. Because the debris has to be moved, there's an increased risk of asbestos fibers contaminating the air. Once inhaled or ingested, the microscopic fibers can lead to serious health problems decades after the flooding disaster occurred.
Cleanup and Restoration After Inundation
It's only natural to want to take action immediately after the flood recedes, but it is highly recommended to use protective gear before rushing in. Knowing where to look for asbestos in your home is vital, as awareness spares you and your family from incapacitating asbestos-related diseases. A simple safety rule is: don't mess with it if you're unsure; leave it to the experts.
If you know the site has damaged asbestos products and you must undertake debris removal or demolition, always be cautious. Hiring a professional for removal and disposal is advisable. Still, if you have to act on your own, it's recommended to take the minimum precautions during restoration or flood cleanup:
- use only NIOSH-approved respirators for protection
- wear disposable gloves, hats, coveralls
- cover or wet all debris to minimize dust
- do not break any material which may contain asbestos
- use only a HEPA filter vacuum
- put debris into double waste bags and seal them with tape
- dispose of the clothing you wore during cleanup or restoration
If the structure of your home was severely damaged by flood water, the site should be secured and contained. Removal or demolition should only be performed by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor or personnel trained in the asbestos NESHAP regulations.
Preparedness is of the essence in the event natural disasters strike, and having a safety plan can ease your concerns. The most important is to have protective equipment ready, including a NIOSH-approved respirator for everyone in your household.