Hurricane Asbestos Hazards

Hurricane Sandy is just one of the recent catastrophes that demolished thousands of homes and neighborhoods across the country and devastated countless homes and families. Aside from the obvious loss of property, power outages, and dangerous conditions, asbestos attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn those affected by natural disasters about the possibility of asbestos fibers being released into the air.

Asbestos was used in a large number of construction materials up until the 1980s because of its resistance to fire and chemical and biological degradation. Unfortunately, the toxic mineral was found to cause chronic and fatal diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. It was eventually banned from use in 1978. Asbestos is harmful and dangerous when it becomes airborne and ingested into the lungs, which is why mesothelioma and other similar asbestos-related illnesses are associated with those who worked closely with asbestos-containing materials. Public danger heightens when any type of renovation, repairs, or demolitions of older buildings occurs. Recent national disasters have caused vast and widespread destruction and have potentially damaged asbestos-containing materials.

Cleaning up after a flood or fire requires hundreds of workers to renovate and repair, or tear down and dispose of, damaged or destroyed structures and minerals. However, repair, renovation, and demolition operations often generate airborne asbestos. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed regulations designed to protect cleanup workers and the public from asbestos hazards.

Asbestos fibers are so small that they often cannot be seen by the naked eye; the fact that you can inhale these fibers without knowing it makes asbestos an even more dangerous hazard. The work of flood cleanup personnel involves the repair, renovation, removal,demolition, or salvage of flood-damaged structures and materials. Such materials may contain or be covered with asbestos, and cleanup personnel are protected by OSHA’s construction industry asbestos standard.

This standard requires employers to follow various procedures to protect their employees from inhaling asbestos fibers. The standard contains many requirements that vary depending on the kind of work being undertaken, the amount of asbestos in the air, and other factors. You and your employer can obtain a copy of this standard and the booklet, Asbestos Standards for Construction (OSHA 3096) describing how to comply with it, from OSHA’s website at www.osha.gov.

The following include some of the major requirements of the asbestos standard:

  • A permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.1 fiber of asbestos per cubic centimeter of air as averaged over an 8-hour period, with an excursion limit of 1.0 asbestos fiber per cubic centimeter over a 30-minute period.
  • Requirements for an initial exposure assessment to ascertain expected exposures during that work operation, and periodic exposure monitoring in certain instances.
  • Use of engineering controls, to the extent feasible, to meet the PEL. Where this is not possible, engineering controls must be used to reduce exposures to the lowest levels possible and then supplemented by the use of appropriate respiratory protection.
  • Use of regulated areas to limit access to locations where asbestos concentrations may be dangerously high.
  • No smoking, eating, or drinking in asbestos regulated areas.
  • Requirements for warning signs and caution labels to identify and communicate the presence of hazards and hazardous materials; recordkeeping; and medical surveillance.

If you think you may be the victim of asbestos exposure, it is important to contact an asbestos attorney immediately.

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