(From the City of Joplin)
Summer is here and brings warmer, dryer weather. This, combined with activity to remove debris from the May 22 tornado, can result in some very dusty conditions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been monitoring the air in Joplin to find out if it contains asbestos fibers or particulate matter at levels that could pose health threats. EPA commonly performs this mission after disasters of this type.
EPA is monitoring the air in and around the tornado’s impact zone because debris collection, demolition and other cleanup activities have the potential to release asbestos fibers and increase the amount of particulate matter, or dust, in the air.
So far, asbestos has not been found in any of EPA’s air sampling. Asbestos exposure may become a potential health concern when asbestos fibers are inhaled over a long period. EPA will continue to monitor the air in Joplin for asbestos, and the public will be informed if asbestos is detected in future sampling.
Exposure to excessive levels of particulate matter can aggravate or worsen many health conditions. People with heart or lung diseases are particularly sensitive, and may experience health problems at lower levels of exposure to particulate material than the general population. So far, particulate matter levels detected by the EPA in Joplin’s air samples have generally remained lower than levels that would indicate health concerns for most people.
Health officials advise residents to be aware of their health conditions during this time. “Basically, we recommend that sensitive people with breathing difficulties not work in or around impacted areas when there are dusty and windy conditions, and should consider staying indoors when these conditions exist at their residences,” said Dan Pekarek, City Health Director. “These individuals may want to consider performing outdoor activities earlier in the day or later in the evening when dusty conditions are less likely.”
Locally dusty conditions are possible where any work is being done inside the impacted area. All people who work in the tornado impacted area should wear at least an N-95 mask as a precaution to protect themselves from particulate matter in the air. An N-100, P-100 or R-100 mask will also offer some protection against asbestos. Closely follow the instructions for wearing the respirator you choose, because if it is worn incorrectly it may provide little or no protection.