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Oklahoma tornadoes stir up asbestos concerns

People all across the country have been focused on the devastation that was recently caused by tornadoes that tore through parts of Oklahoma. People were injured and killed as the terrifying storms pummeled the state for hours, leaving a trail of devastation behind. After these natural disasters, it is important for people to focus on staying safe and healthy as the process of rebuilding and cleanup begins.

One of the very real concerns that people should be aware of is the risk of toxic asbestos exposure. This risk can be exceptionally high in areas where buildings and homes have been destroyed and must be cleaned up. 

Because so many structures were built with asbestos until the 1980s, many buildings still contain the fiber. Often times, the material was used in plumbing, roofing, tiling and insulation because of its fire-resistant qualities. Undisturbed, asbestos presents a relatively low risk of hazardous exposure. However, once it is disturbed, asbestos particles are released into the air and can easily be breathed in, which can cause mesothelioma and other deadly diseases. 

People in Oklahoma may be familiar with the precautions that should be taken during any demolition or cleanup efforts after a tornado. Two years ago, the city of Joplin Oklahoma was destroyed by tornadoes. In the aftermath of the storms, about 2,600 tons of asbestos were collected and removed. 

After this type of tragedy, people may not be concerned about asbestos as they dig through debris and try to rebuild their lives and homes. However, it is crucial to remember that asbestos should only be handled and removed by certified parties. People should make sure they use respirators and protective covering when working in areas where asbestos might be present and wash their hands frequently. 

Asbestos exposure may not even be a blip on a person's radar if they have just been through a terrifying tornado. But with a few precautions and some extra attention being paid to safe removal procedures, people can hopefully avoid the long-term consequences of asbestos exposure. 

Source: The Huffington Post, "Oklahoma Tornado Health Risks May Lie In The Rubble," Lynne Peeples, May 22, 2013

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