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Asbestos exposure in disaster cleanup can cause workplace injury

The floods caused by Hurricane Harvey prompted reminders by safety authorities about the hazards clean-up crews may face. Damaged older buildings pose asbestos hazards, and Illinois workers who are sent to help clean up disaster areas must keep the associated workplace injury threat in mind and make sure they are equipped with the appropriate protective gear. The destruction of natural disasters can cause harmful and toxic substances to be released into the air, water and soil when older buildings are damaged.

Uncontained asbestos --present in many pre-1970 buildings -- can release tiny, needle-like fibers when disturbed. If they are inhaled, they get stuck in tissues and can cause potentially terminal diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Before the dangers of asbestos were recognized, it was used in roofing materials, insulation, joint compound, wallboard and flooring tiles. It was also present in materials used for soundproofing and fireproofing.

Workers cleaning up in the aftermath of floods need to know that, although water may contain asbestos fibers, it will not destroy them. As soon as it dries out, the fibers can become airborne, and it will also contaminate soil. Those involved in the demolishing of damaged buildings will be at an elevated risk of harm when asbestos is disturbed. Even after asbestos is burned, the risk remains because the fibers will be present in the ash.

Illinois workers who were exposed to asbestos are advised to go for medical evaluations regularly to monitor any damage to lungs or other organs. Having a record of medical evaluations can come in handy if any of these dreaded diseases are diagnosed in the future -- or another related workplace injury. Although the workers' compensation insurance program covers occupational illnesses, proving such a disease to be work-related can be challenging, and the assistance of an experienced workers' compensation attorney could be helpful.

Source: mesothelioma.net, "Protecting against Asbestos Exposure in a Natural Disaster", Accessed on Sept. 1, 2017

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