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Asbestos Safety Information
Paul Safchuck
President, White Lung Association

Question (questions by Cyndi Norman): There are new cases of people getting exposed to the dust. Most of these have past but there may be more buildings coming down and anyone walking through the area will get the dust on their shoes, clothes, etc. Rescue workers are at greatest risk. The authorities are rinsing people with hoses and saying to launder dusty clothes separately, but I don't think that's enough, do you?

The destruction of the WTC buildings, particularly the Twin Towers has caused a great release of various toxins. It is unfortunate that those who are our heroes in the rescue and the innocent bystanders are being exposed to asbestos.

Over five thousand tons of asbestos were used in just insulation for the structural steel. The tragic attack on these buildings has rendered much of this to environmental dust. One only has to look at how NYC responded to the exploded gas or steam lines to see how difficult this problem will be for years to come. It is sad that lack of proper protection for the heroes and their support personnel and supporters has allowed the terrorists to plant miniature bombs in the lungs of thousands, if not millions, of those in New York City.

Spraying individuals off with fire hoses is a crude form of decontamination. Proper decontamination is relatively simple and quite possible to establish at Ground Zero. It would consist of tent stations in which the workers would leave though.

The magnitude of this tragedy makes many of the traditional ways of controlling asbestos dust impossible to use. However, public information, which would warn bystanders and promote personal protection amongst workers, is still an option. It is an option that should be utilized.

Question: What should you do if you've already tracked the dust throughout your home, car, work, etc?

Asbestos contamination of a home is very difficult to clean up. Under most conditions this job should be done by a company licensed to handle asbestos. If the home owner is unsure about the contamination and wants to take precautions for removing suspected dust, they may wish to follow these guidelines:

If rugs, carpets and clothing are contaminated it is many times easier to bag them up and dispose of them. Automobiles and homes can be cleaned professionally by licensed professionals.

Question: How can you protect yourself if you live in the area--can asbestos be in the air?

Asbestos is most certainly in the air, to what amount is yet to be known. The farther you are from Ground Zero and the farther you are away from the wind currents going through Ground Zero, the better. Air conditioners should be set to recycle air rather than bring in fresh air. All dust should be wet wiped up where possible. You should not go to Ground Zero or close to it without respiratory protection, full body cover and disposable booties.

Question: What do you think about the advice for residents to close their windows and run the air conditioning? I read in another article that air conditioning ducts pull in asbestos and distribute them throughout a building.

See above, definitely keep windows closed if possible.

Question: How should you protect yourself if you are walking or driving through an affected area?

Unless you have full body protection and a respirator which is approved for asbestos use by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (stamped on the unit NIOSH approved) do not go into this area. Until this area is thoroughly cleaned no one should go there unless they have a reason which is equal in weight to the elevated life time risk of cancer.

Question: How can protect yourself if you are a rescue worker (or other person) spending time around the WTC crash site. How can you not expose your family?

Do not bring your work clothes home, do not wear your work clothes in your car, do not work without full personal protection which includes respirator, body covering, and gloves. Leave all work-related clothing, tools, etc outside the home. Do not wash your contaminated clothing in your home. Discard it if possible in sealed plastic bags.

Question: What do you think of the statement that people at the WTC site don't have to worry because asbestos-based illness is the result of years of exposure, not a single one? I agree it's more likely the longer you are there, but isn't one small exposure enough for some people? And if you are covered with dust, head to toe, in the eyes, in the lungs, isn't that the equivalent of years of low to moderate level exposures?

The amount of exposure has not been measured to my knowledge. I would recommend that all rescue workers request air sampling where the samples are read with a Transmission Electron Microscope. I would also recommend that all workers retrieve one half 35 mm film canister of sample dust. This should be labeled and sent to a lab (pick from those in the phone book that advertise for asbestos analysis) with request for either Polarized Light Microscopy or Transmission Electron Microscope. The former is least expensive and is generally sufficient for most bulk samples.

Advertisement in Asbestos Magazine, November 1981

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