Asbestos Dangers After Storm Damage
Homes with asbestos become dangerous after storm damage and require additional precautions to keep workers, homeowners and their families safe.
Asbestos that’s left alone is harmless, but airborne particles can become deadly.
After a storm, areas of your home containing asbestos may have been disturbed or damaged, sending asbestos fragments into the air. When this happens, special protective equipment is required to keep everyone safe from the health effects of asbestos.
What Makes Asbestos So Dangerous?
- Asbestos fibers can remain airborne for hours.
- Airborne fibers aren’t visible to the naked eye.
- The microscopic fibers lodge into the lining of the lungs, which can cause mesothelioma, a rare cancer with a notoriously poor prognosis.
- Even a small amount of exposure could be potentially deadly.
When disturbed, microscopic asbestos dust fibers can be inhaled by anyone in the vicinity. Inhaled fibers can become lodged in the lungs, where they trigger other illnesses, including an aggressive form of cancer called malignant mesothelioma.
It’s important to know whether your home was built with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) so you can prevent asbestos-related diseases. If you know of asbestos in your home or you’re unsure whether it’s present, you will need to rely on expert help.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in the ground and mined from the earth.
There are two categories of asbestos that differ by the shape of their particles:
- Serpentine: Named for its curly fibers, the serpentine family of asbestos contains only one known type of asbestos — chrysolite (white asbestos). Most asbestos materials used in construction and manufacturing are made with chrysolite asbestos, and it’s considered less dangerous than other types.
- Amphibole: Considered the most dangerous type of asbestos, amphibole is made up of sharp, needle-like fibers that can easily pierce and lodge into soft tissue when inhaled, such as the lining of the lung. The types of asbestos that belong to the amphibole family include amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Amosite is the second most widely used type, making up roughly 5% of ACM in the United States.
The poisonous mineral has also been known to contaminate other underground minerals like vermiculite, talc silica, which are main ingredients in many consumer products. In a particularly tragic situation, the vermiculite mining town of Libby, Montana, saw hundreds of its residents pass away, and thousands more become seriously ill from exposure throughout the city’s prosperous mining years.
Asbestos Products and Uses
Throughout the late 19th to mid-to-late 20th centuries, asbestos building materials were popular because of the mineral’s natural insulating, fire-resistance and waterproofing properties. It was also inexpensive and easy to source, which made it an excellent and economical filler substance.
Because of all these favorable qualities, asbestos use was prolific in home construction, and many older houses still contain it. It was used in construction materials like:
- Ceiling and floor tiles
- Asbestos cement
- Asbestos insulation
- Roofing shingles
- Sealants and glues
The amount of asbestos used in the manufacturing sector—particularly the automotive industry—was also substantial. Common contaminated automotive products include gaskets, brake pads, transmission plates, clutches and heat seals. Similarly, it was abundant in shipyards, where shipbuilders used the “miracle mineral” for fireproofing and other safety applications.
Such widespread use of asbestos has increased the risk of exposure, making people who are frequently in contact with the material at the greatest risk of health problems.
What’s worse is that early experts warned of occupational exposure and the carcinogen’s deadly effects, but companies ignored the science, favoring profits over the health of workers and consumers globally.
Slowly, today’s government and public health authorities, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the CDC, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, have been conducting disease control by regulating asbestos products and preventing its ongoing use.
Top Asbestos Health Risks and Diseases
Asbestos is dangerous because when inhaled or ingested, its tiny particles enter the body’s respiratory and digestive system, where they lodge themselves into the soft tissue linings of internal organs. The body cannot naturally expel these fibers, leaving them to sit and fester for months or years before they trigger inflammation and disease.
Over time, lodged fibers in the linings of the lungs, abdomen or heart can lead to various diseases, including mesothelioma, lung and other cancers, asbestosis and pleural plaques.
Left untreated, each of these health conditions can result in eventual death.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer that coats the lining of your body’s internal organs. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the lungs. Other mesothelioma forms can infect the lining of the abdomen, heart and testicles.
Mesothelioma develops when lodged asbestos fibers cause inflammation and irritation to tissue cells that eventually mutate and become cancerous. According to many health administrations, mesothelioma can take 10-50 years to develop after initial exposure and is difficult to diagnose since symptoms mimic those of other, more common illnesses.
Common symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Painful coughing
- Chest lumps
- Chronic Fatigue
- Unexpected weight loss
Because mesothelioma is located on the lining that protects your organs, it is incredibly challenging to remove and treat. Mesothelioma is, therefore, one of the deadliest types of cancer, which is why you must protect yourself and others if asbestos is in your home.
Lung and Other Cancers
Asbestos exposure has been linked to lung cancer and other severe forms of asbestos-related cancer. The symptoms of lung cancer caused by asbestos include chest pain, persistent coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, face or neck swelling, loss of appetite, fatigue and chronic respiratory infections.
Smokers who work around the mineral are at the highest risk of developing lung cancer. However, anyone who is exposed can develop lung and other cancers.
Asbestos exposure has also been linked to ovarian cancer.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition that occurs when the lungs become damaged and inflamed after exposure. Inhaled asbestos causes irritation and scarring within the lungs, leading them to stiffen over time and making it harder for the lungs to expand fully.
The most common symptoms of asbestosis include chest pain, shortness of breath, dry coughing, clubbed fingertips and toes and a loss of appetite that leads to weight loss.
Pleural plaque is a serious medical condition that occurs when the membrane between the lungs and the lungs’ lining thickens and accumulates an unnatural, chalky substance.
The majority of people with pleural plaques don’t have health problems. Those who do may experience chest pain, shortness of breath or painful cough. While pleural plaques don’t always progress or coincide with lung disease, they increase your risk of mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
Safe Asbestos Removal After Storm Damage
If your home contains or potentially contains the carcinogen and has been recently damaged by a storm, you will need to hire an abatement or remediation company.
Because of the health risks involved, you must work with an asbestos abatement company before hiring a storm damage restoration company. Inspection, testing and removal of asbestos are specialty skill sets with unique regulations, licensing and training, and only certified providers can safely address the removal of products from homes.
It‘s your responsibility to ensure that your neighbors, workers, and family members are safe from contamination in your home.
In addition to your moral obligation to safely remove contaminated products, you can face significant financial penalties if you expose people. The EPA and OSHA take exposure very seriously, and negligence can lead to substantial fines for homeowners or contractors.
Some larger, experienced companies can provide both remediation and storm damage restoration services. Finding a company specializing in both services can help streamline the storm damage recovery process and potentially save money.
If you discover a removal or storm damage company you trust that does not offer both services, you are always welcome to ask them for a referral. Experienced companies will be familiar with other businesses in the area they can work well with.
DIY Asbestos Removal Risks
If you have an older home, you should assume that any destroyed wall, roofing, ceiling, or flooring materials contained asbestos. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends having a professional inspect your home before starting any repairs. It may be impossible to tell if unlabeled building materials contain asbestos.
Removing asbestos from a home requires special equipment to test the air and respirators before any restoration work begins.
Here are some things to be aware of when attempting removing asbestos-containing materials from your home:
- Don’t move undamaged asbestos-containing materials.
- Avoid damaging any asbestos-containing materials further.
- Refrain from dusting, sweeping, or vacuuming debris.
- Don’t use sandpaper or abrasive materials to remove asbestos.
- Have major removal and repair completed by qualified professionals.
If you’ve experienced structural damage to your home, and you suspect that there might be asbestos, you should absolutely consult with an asbestos removal expert who can test the material and safely remove it if necessary.
Asbestos Removal Cost
Remediation can be expensive, and asbestos removal costs vary.
The average home asbestos remediation cost ranges from $500 to $5,000, and most homeowners pay between $1,124 and $2,874 for the service, according to HomeAdvisor.
Many insurance companies cover asbestos remediation when it is related to storm damage.
While removal isn’t typically covered for voluntary renovation work, it’s often considered a covered loss when storms like blizzards or hurricanes damage your home. Even when insurance companies don’t cover removal, you may be able to work with the service providers to lower your costs. For example, some products can be encapsulated and safely sealed off, instead of requiring full removal. Always ask for an asbestos removal cost estimate before any work begins.
Hiring Asbestos Removal Experts
Homeowners need to work with trusted professionals who can repair and restore their homes after a storm while adequately addressing contamination. Asbestos abatement is dangerous work that has serious consequences when done improperly.
You can protect your community by hiring qualified experts to help restore your home. Removal companies employ experts trained to identify, test and remove the contaminated building materials while keeping you, your family, neighbors and workers safe.
If a storm has damaged your home, you need help you can trust. Connect now with experienced storm and asbestos recovery experts near you.