The Asbestos Legacy of Japans Tsunami

Fears of radioactive fallout aren’t the only concerns that arose from the 2011 tsunami that rolled over parts of Japan: potentially carcinogenic asbestos litters many of the ruins left by this disaster, as well.

In tsunami-stricken areas, tons of asbestos were spread through the ruins. An Australian reporter commented on the problem, stating, “While many fear the invisible fallout from Fukushima, (asbestos) may be another poisonous substance closer to home that could prove even deadlier for some.”

Many of the buildings destroyed by the massive waves had asbestos in their roofing, flooring, and insulation. The tide mixed the asbestos particles with other debris, creating toxic mounds along the northeast coast of Japan. Eventually, these deadly fibers were dried and carried away by the wind, posing a serious risk of inhalation.

In the days and months after the tsunami, thousands of relief workers labored in affected areas without protective gear and may have been exposed to toxic levels of asbestos. So far, tests have confirmed 14 locations where asbestos levels exceed the safety limit established by the World Health Organization. Because a ban on asbestos was only enacted in Japan in 2005, even newer buildings may contain the mineral.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Exposure to asbestos could lead to the rare and deadly cancer mesothelioma, along with asbestosis, lung cancer, and other diseases.

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