Asbestos Warning Issued During Kentucky Tornado Cleanup

Tornado forming

Kentucky will provide $50,000 grants in 31 counties to help with solid waste cleanup needed after the devastating tornadoes that rocked the state last week.

The grants will come with a warning: Beware of the asbestos. It’s everywhere now.

The storm system that swept through 10 states last week,  spawned 42 tornadoes and killed 40 people – including 22 in Kentucky – left behind a massive cleanup project that will continue to endanger residents.

An exposure to asbestos, which often is overlooked after a crushing storm like this, can cause serious long-term health issues that might lie dormant for decades. The inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibers, which become airborne when disturbed during cleanup, can cause mesothelioma cancer.

The Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection (KDEP) has specific guidelines for proper disposal of debris in the wake of severe weather.

In Indiana, where  13 people died last week and big parts of small towns Maryville and Henryville were leveled beyond recognition, the state has similar guidelines. It issued a similar warning.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials are touring both states today to further assess damage and determine the extent of the federal assistance available.

“Kentuckians should be aware of health, safety and compliance hazards associated with debris handling and disposal. These hazards include burning of debris, asbestos removal and mold growth,”  according to a KDEP news release.

Included in that warning is an emphasis on the prohibition of burning any debris from homes and businesses, which would spread the asbestos for miles. It warns homeowners that the most dangerous materials containing asbestos are likely to be in insulation, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, linoleum, transite siding and roofing shingles.

Homes and most any building constructed before 1980 likely were built with large quantities of asbestos. It was used extensively because it was heat resistant and helped fireproof and soundproof construction. Its flexibility also helped make buildings sturdier.

Unfortunately, asbestos also was toxic, which didn’t become obvious to everyone – and cause any outrage – until the late ’70s, when its use became heavily-regulated. Asbestos materials, when disturbed through renovation or demolition or just the aging process, becomes dangerous.

State officials are urging resident to use qualified professionals, ones that have proper safety equipment, to handle any asbestos materials.

This is hardly a new phenomena. Asbestos exposure became a big issue a year ago following the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama, destroying 2,370 homes in Tuscaloosa County.

There was both federal and state oversight of the asbestos removal in commercial buildings there, but little attention paid to the waste removal from single-family homes.

The lack of oversight caused considerable concern among residents and environmental activists, particularly because of the extremely dry conditions that accompanied the cleanup period, making it easier for the asbestos fibers to become airborne.

The same storm that raged through Kentucky and Indiana, damaged the roof of Murphy High School in Murphy, North Carolina. Although the damage wasn’t bad enough to close the school, it did expose the asbestos insulation in the cafeteria, forcing officials to move the dining facilities into the gymnasium indefinitely.

In Kentucky, the state is taking applications to help pay the cost of collecting, transporting and disposing of the waste generated by the tornadoes, reminding residents that building materials should be taken to construction and demolition landfills, warning of the asbestos dangers.


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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