Flooding Cleanup in North Dakota Leaves Residents Vulnerable to Asbestos Exposure

View of Minot, North Dakota

The flood waters have receded and help is arriving, but the danger still lurks — albeit silent and slow — in places like Minot, North Dakota.

The North Dakota Department of Health is warning residents, and those volunteers who are coming this week to help with the cleanup, that the presence of asbestos and the dangers it presents should not be taken lightly.

The calamitous spring flooding, whose costs have reached an estimated $1 billion throughout the state, left behind a massive project that includes the gutting of homes and businesses before the rebuilding can begin.

The cleanup, particularly for structures built before 1990, can be harmful to those nearby if the proper precautions are not taken. Officials issued the warning late in July after seeing the asbestos-laced debris being left curbside by residents.

Most obvious was the vermiculite insulation being haphazardly removed from attics and walls that were damaged by the flood. Asbestos also is prevalent inside flooring, duct work, framed walls and concrete block.

Exposure to the asbestos fibers, which are microscopic and often inhaled, can lead to mesothelioma cancer, whose symptoms can lay dormant for as long as 50 years before becoming a problem.

According to a press release from the North Dakota Department of Health, much of the vermiculite being found came from the mines in Libby, Montana, which were closed in 1990 after many cases of asbestos exposure were traced there.

The warning, which was backed by the Environmental Protection Agency, encourages residents to use professional contractors, which have the knowledge and equipment to safely handle the asbestos removal. Only commercial buildings and multi-family residences of four or more units require licensed professionals to handle the abatement.

Residents of single-family homes have the option of doing the work themselves, which could be a dangerous undertaking. Asbestos becomes especially troublesome when it begins to crumble, fray, tear or becomes brittle.

According to the Bismarck Tribune, more than 4,000 homes were flooded in the Minot area, primarily because of the Souris River, which flows from Canada to north central North Dakota. And many homes still need to be gutted before mold develops. Buses filled with volunteers from Bismarck will be arriving throughout the week.

Among the recommendations:

  • When handling material containing asbestos, you should wear gloves, goggles and a HEPA respirator.
  • Asbestos materal should be handled while wet or damp, doubled bagged and properly labeled.
  • Tape off rooms being gutted with plastic sheeting to prevent contaminating other areas of the home. Keep the insulation damp to prevent spreading dust.
  • Keep windows open for ventilation and wipe up all dust and debris using wet cleaning methods.
  • Temporarily move family members (especially children and pregnant women) out of the home until the work is complete.

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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