The cleanup after Hurricane Sandy will involve thousands of workers tearing down and repairing flood damaged houses and structures. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is warning Hurricane Sandy cleanup workers and members of the public in New York and across the region to be aware of the danger of asbestos. Asbestos fibers cause deadly respiratory diseases including mesothelioma, a form of cancer.
Asbestos, a mineral fiber, was added to many building materials because of its strength and insulating properties until the 1980s. When houses and buildings containing asbestos materials are renovated or demolished, the renovation and demolition activities often generate airborne asbestos fibers. The fibers are microscopic, making them more hazardous because you can inhale them without knowing it. Asbestos is classified as a known human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
While the use of asbestos has been curtailed in many workplaces, construction and demolition workers remain at risk of asbestos exposure today because of past construction practices, according to the National Cancer Institute.
OSHA has regulations that construction industry employers must follow to protect cleanup workers from exposure to asbestos. The construction industry standards require employers to follow various standards to protect workers from inhaling asbestos fibers. The detailed standards vary depending on the type of work being undertaken, the amount of asbestos in the air and other factors. Among the requirements is an initial assessment of a demolition or renovation project to estimate the expected exposure to asbestos during the work.
You and your employer can find more information about how to obtain a copy of the booklet, Asbestos Standards for Construction.
Approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the United States. Most are older workers, retired workers and veterans who had regular exposure to asbestos for a period of weeks or months in a workplace or during military service.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer. While there is no known cure for the disease, doctors have the most success in managing the disease when it is diagnosed early. Treatments for mesothelioma include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.