Residents warned on asbestos risk

By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

An advocate for asbestos education said Friday eastern New Mexico residents should protect themselves against a cancer-causing material, asbestos, that could be released in the demolition of homes destroyed by tornadoes.

“It’s important for people to understand when asbestos is disturbed … it becomes dangerous,” said Charles Perea, president and founder of the Johnny O. Perea Foundation for Asbestos Education & Relief.

“Anything built prior to the 1980s is assumed to be asbestos-containing,” said Perea, whose father, a construction worker, died from exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is commonly used for thermal insulation, acoustic insulation and fireproofing. It’s also found in numerous building materials, according to the Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

Made up of bundles of fibers, asbestos can become airborne when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed, according to the EPA. When these fibers escape into the air, they may be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems, including cancer, the Web site reads.

People should wear respirators that filter out airborne particles or at least cover their mouths with masks when dealing with wreckage from homes, Perea said.

During demolition and cleanup, materials that may contain asbestos should be kept wet to mitigate health risks, he said.

For the time being, material that may contain asbestos is being stored in an isolated area at the Clovis landfill, according to Edward Horst of the New Mexico Environment Department.

“We are going to have to deal with this down the road,” said Horst, who was in Clovis Friday to assess environmental hazards created in the wake of a tornado that touched down in Clovis March 23.

Horst also cautioned people against burning wreckage. Doing so can release hazardous substances, he said.

Fast facts
Household materials that may contain asbestos include:
• cement pipes
• floor tiles
• boiler insulation
• plaster
• textured paints and coatings
• electric wiring insulation
• ceiling tiles
• heating and electrical ducts

For more information about asbestos, contact the Johnny O. Perea Foundation at 857-0480 or (877) 857-0480. Information can be found online at

http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/pubs/asbestosprojectplan.pdf