Dangers Within a Disaster

On Saturday, October 12, 2019 at approximately 9:12am, the Hard Rock Hotel under construction in downtown New Orleans suffered a fatal collapse. The partial collapse left ten floors of the building destroyed. Tragically the collapse resulted in the deaths of 3 individuals and left many more injured. By now many have seen the dramatic video footage of the collapse showing construction workers and bystanders running to escape the falling debris. What many may not see, however, is the danger hidden in the dust and debris caused by the collapse. It may come as a surprise to learn that within that dust, there is a likely chance some of the debris contained asbestos.

Contrary to popular belief, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not banned asbestos in the US. In fact, it is still occasionally used in some commercial facilities, even new construction. The EPA did initiually ban asbestos back in 1989, however the majority of the ban was overruled leaving only a few specific products banned. Imported products may have asbestos containing material (ACM) some of which include insulation materials and vinyl floor tiles. Additionally, the import for raw asbestos into the US climbed dramatically between July and August 2018.  The 2000% increase resulted in over 272 metric tons of raw asbestos being imported into the US. The heightened import rate continues today and may become further exaserbated by the recent actions of the EPA which passed a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR). This rule which allows the case-by-case evaluation of products thereby removing any defined ban effectively allows asbestos back into manufacturing.

A collapse similar to the one suffered by the Hard Rock Hotel is not the only situation that can create increased threat levels due to asbestos. Other situations include hurricanes, tornados, fires, or even earthquakes. Any one of these disasters compromises the integrity of the structure and included materials. The EPA, through the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), provides strict regulations for the disturbance disturbance of asbestos associated with demolition and renovation activities. The NESHAP regulations are administered by each individual state, most having asbestos regulations more rescrictive than the EPA NESHAP. OSHA also has detailed regulations for general industry and the construction industry which must be adhered to. One might believe that the regulations become more relaxed for emergency and disaster situations due to the scale and necessity to move quickly, however this is not true. It is vital that all EPA, state and OSHA regulations are followed during even the most extreme situations. One revision the EPA does provide during emergencies is allowing for a shorter, 24-hour notice, compared to the standard notice. This allows crews to move more quickly, however it does not allow for any revisions to the mitigation protocols.  

As seen in the Hard Rock Hotel collapse and other disasters around the country, it is critical to understand and follow all regulations because there are often hidden dangers many people, even some claiming to be professional companies, are not aware of.

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