Asbestos Risk in Aftermath of Japan Earthquake

Broken tiles

In the aftermath of Japan’s March 11 earthquake, among the myriad problems that include the spread of deadly radiation, asbestos analysts have been detecting asbestos fibers in the air.

When the tsunami waves from the earthquake destroyed homes and buildings, asbestos fibers were probably disturbed and became airborne. Officials have estimated that there is over six million tons of debris in each of the towns that were badly hit by the tsunami.

However, the Japanese Healthy Ministry has already begun to make great efforts to prevent further exposure to any aid workers or citizens who have ventured back into the rubble. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers has been linked to the development of potentially fatal cancers such as malignant mesothelioma.

Tokyo-based EFA Laboratories Co. has already taken the steps to test for asbestos exposure risks. They have moved a mobile laboratory into the Miyagi prefecture town, one of the hardest hit areas, to offer free asbestos testing and analysis to emergency workers and residents. When discussing their decision to set up a mobile laboratory in the town, EFA president Kevin Carroll said, “If we can help them identify asbestos fibers and protect them to the greatest extent possible, I’m a happy guy.”

EFA has been collecting air samples around Sendai, another town that was hard hit by the tsunami earlier this month. Air testing has shown elevated density levels of 2 fibers per liter. Although this number is lower than the environmental safety standard set by Japan of 10 fibers per liter, it is still considered dangerous.

Japan’s Environment Ministry has also been doing testing of its own. At 15 locations including the Fukushima, Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures, air monitoring for asbestos has been conducted. Officials have issued 90,000 masks and safety pamphlets to emergency workers in the hardest-hit areas. While the risk for airborne asbestos fibers was reduced immediately after the tsunami due to the fibers being wet, government officials are taking the potential threat from asbestos seriously.

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After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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