Hail the size of golf balls pelted the Denver area this past Monday, causing significant damage to cars, homes, stores, and other property. For the Denver School District, the hail caused the closure of one elementary school, which suffered 100 broken windows and, closure due to asbestos worries, because of the release of hazardous the toxin that was contained in putty that was holding many of the aging windows in place.
An article in the Denver Post reported that officials had to close the Beach Court Elementary School for the last two days because of the dangers of asbestos exposure.
A facilities team assessing the damage at the school made the decision to shutter the building after noticing that, in many instances, the glass from the windows had completely dislodged from the putty – also referred to as glazing.
The asbestos-containing glazing was cracked and asbestos particles were released.
Thankfully, the rain that also came along with the hailstorm should have minimized the spread of the asbestos dust, but the district is taking no chances.
They will set up containment areas around each window and the glass will be removed and the glazing encapsulated. Later in the summer, the district plans to remove all windows and asbestos glazing and replace them with a safer alternative.
It is fortunate that district officials were observant enough to recognize the presence of asbestos. Natural disasters, such as storms, floods, and earthquakes, often cause damage that prompts the release of dangerous asbestos dust.
Sometimes, unknowing individuals go into a disaster scene for clean-up and find that they have been exposed to the toxic dust. For many, the discovery is too late.
They’ve likely already inhaled the fibers.
After Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, countless individuals likely suffered from asbestos exposure due to the large presence of the material in older structures that were severely damaged by the storm.
Residents were literally wading through mounds of asbestos-laden materials – totally unprotected and unaware that the mineral was present and could cause harm.
It was easy for them to spy other hazards, like broken glass and crumbling structures, but asbestos isn’t as easy to detect. Usually, it’s not even a passing thought when people are dealing with such a tragedy.
This can happen literally anywhere that natural disasters, including fires, occur. That means anytime search and recovery, demolition, or other procedures are to be undertaken in an area where asbestos is likely to be found, those participating MUST wear protective gear, such as respirators, to keep them from inhaling tiny, dangerous asbestos particles.
It is this kind of unexpected exposure that puts firefighters, police, and EMTs at risk for asbestos exposure as well. All three groups have a higher-than-normal risk of developing asbestos diseases like mesothelioma, simply because they are more likely to encounter asbestos at the scene of a debilitating storm, a blaze, or any other natural disaster.