The dangers of asbestos are so widely known these days that most people are unaware how prevalent asbestos still is in our lives. The recent tornadoes ravaging the Midwest, however, have brought asbestos into the spotlight again, as many of the older buildings that were demolished were built with asbestos.
Until the late 1970s, asbestos was used in a number of building components, from insulation to roofing and flooring. While the link between asbestos and lung diseases such as mesothelioma has been known since the early 1900s, asbestos was not officially banned from use in the United States until much later. The Environmental Protection Agency fought to institute a legal ban of asbestos products in 1989, but this ban was overturned by the Court of Appeals in 1991. Asbestos is no longer used in most applications in the United States, but is still allowed for some uses.
The “ban” on asbestos in the United States means that newer homes and buildings are no longer built with asbestos materials, but many older buildings and homes still contain asbestos in insulation and other components. Unless this asbestos becomes airborne, it generally does not present much of a risk to inhabitants of these older buildings. With the recent tornados, however, a number of asbestos buildings have been leveled, allowing asbestos particles to be released into the air.
For example, St. John’s Hospital in Joplin, Missouri was built with asbestos components. This building was demolished by a recent tornado, so the asbestos in the building may have become airborne and could present a threat to local residents and rescue and relief workers in the area.
Residents of areas affected by the recent tornadoes and relief workers stationed in these areas are strongly urged to take proper precautions to avoid breathing in asbestos or other toxins that may have been released by the tornados’ destruction. It is important that people at risk of asbestos exposure wear appropriate masks to keep the asbestos from entering their lungs. Also, it is a good idea to shower and change clothes immediately after potential asbestos exposure to prevent asbestos on the skin or clothes from travelling.