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Asbestos & Disaster Relief Precautions

By Alison Grimes, MAA Center

2017 has proven to be an unfortunate memorable year of natural disasters.  Across the globe, countries including Afghanistan, China, Colombia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo Mexico, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and more, have all suffered heartache and destruction as a result of natural disasters.

The United States even experienced the hardship of more than 50 separate weather, climate and flood disasters, above the 10-year average of 45 disasters.  With hundreds and thousands of lives affected, fast action and relief saves lives. However, although quick relief is important, safety and health should not be taken for granted.

Aerial view of flood damage from Hurricane Harvey (Photo Credit: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle)

Disaster Relief Precautions

Following a natural disaster, first responders, insurance adjusters, and contractors are called upon to re-build or repair damage in the home or workplace.  To ensure safety with relief and reconstruction, the following precautions and best practices will ensure good health and well-being, long after a natural disaster.

Asbestos

While managing flood recovery and other natural disaster reconstruction, asbestos is not often thought of.  Although entirely natural, asbestos is very harmful to health, leading to cancer such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and more.  There is no safe level of asbestos exposure and once asbestos fibers are consumed by way of inhalation or ingestion, health concerns can develop anywhere between 10-50 years later.  Therefore, it is important to consider the age of a structure before performing a repair.

Flood Damage Asbestos Abatement (Photo Credit: Patriot Abatement Services)

Asbestos use was widespread during the early 1930s with heightened use during the mid to late 1970s throughout the 1980s.  Its fire-resistant properties, abundance and malleability made it a popular additive in many products used in construction such as tiling, insulation, cements, caulking, heating ducts, roofing, siding, drywall and more.  When such products or materials that contain asbestos are properly encapsulated or enclosed, they will not pose harm to health, however in the case of natural disasters and water damage, the risks of being exposed to asbestos increase as a result.

 Mold

Natural disaster relief zones are breeding grounds for mold, which can begin to develop in as little as 48 hours.  Similar to asbestos, mold is often forgotten about during repairs and disaster relief.  When mold forms, spores enter the air and are easily inhaled, causing skin, eye and nasal passage irritation, wheezing and respiratory health concerns.  Considering the harm associated with mold exposure, it is essential to first dry any wet, humid or damp areas to prevent mold growth.  Additionally, any existing mold should be remediated by a specialist to ensure that all mold spores are eradicated. Control and prevent mold growth by limiting humidity levels, fixing leaky roofs, windows and pipes, cleaning and drying wet areas, and ensuring proper shower, laundry and cooking area ventilation.

 Awareness and training are two essential steps to ensure successful and safe, disaster relief.  However, asbestos and mold are only two concerns to be mindful of,  as lead, silica, PCBs, particulate matter and other hazardous building materials pose great harm to health as well.  Moreover, first responders and all others called upon during disaster relief, must prioritize self-care techniques to prevent burnout and secondary traumatic stress.

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About the Author

Alison Grimes is a Health Advocate at the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Centre (MAA Center).  The MAA Center is an independent group working to help mesothelioma patients, caregivers, advocates, and others looking to learn more about the disease.

Technology to prevent rail disasters is in our hands

Author: Chris Bachmann, Assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Waterloo

As the trial of the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail disaster begins, new policies and practices that aim to employ better technology could help avoid similar disasters in the future.

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) found more than 18 distinct causes and contributing factors in the Lac-Megantic derailment investigation, which makes the likelihood of this type of accident seem nearly impossible.

An unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil ran away and derailed, resulting in the deadly fire and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013. (Photo Credit: CBC)

Yet other derailments in Canada involving dangerous goods would soon follow in 2014 in Plaster Rock, N.B. and Clair, Sask., and two incidents in 2015 in Gogama, Ont.

This suggests that we must be mindful of the connection between human interactions and technology and how each will continue to underlie many causes and contributing factors of future incidents.

As a civil engineering professor who researches transportation infrastructure, dangerous goods and risk, I see several new developments and changes to technology and policy that can help to reduce future accidents.

Safer tank car standards

The type of tank cars involved in the Lac-Megantic accident (“Class 111”) were known to be vulnerable to failure, even in low-speed accidents (e.g., Cornwall, Ont. in 1999).

After Lac-Megantic, Canada and the United States developed a more robust tank car standard, Class 117. This new standard features improved puncture resistance, structural strength and fractural resistance.

Despite these improvements, Canadian and U.S. regulations will still allow Class 111 tank cars to be used for the transport of certain dangerous goods until mid-2025.

Even so, Canada accelerated the phase-out of the older Class 111 tank cars from being used for crude oil service in Canada as of Nov. 1, 2016, under Protective Direction 38.

Enhanced braking

In addition to new tank car standards, the U.S. is requiring enhanced braking standards on trains carrying flammable goods.

Any train with a continuous block of 20 tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid, or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed throughout a train, must have a functioning two-way end-of-train (EOT) device — an electronic unit that can be mounted on the end of a freight train instead of a caboose — or a distributed power (DP) braking system, which spreads braking across different points throughout a train.

Furthermore, any train with 70 or more loaded tank cars containing flammable liquids travelling at speeds greater than 48 km/h must be operated with an electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking system by May 1, 2023.

In short, these technologies enable more controlled braking behaviour through a more responsive and uniform application of brake pressure. Benefits would include shorter stopping distances, lower risks of derailment and lower pile-up effects in the event of a derailment.

More information sharing

Technology also allows more information sharing for better decision-making. For example, Protective Direction No. 36 in Canada requires railways to provide municipalities with dangerous goods reports, including information on the number of unit trains, percentage of railway cars transporting dangerous goods, information on their nature and volume and number of trains.

This information is intended to inform emergency planning and responses.

The U.S. is also requiring more accurate classification of unrefined petroleum-based products to ensure proper classification, packaging and record-keeping through a documented sampling and testing process. This information is to be made available to the Department of Transportation upon request.

Human factors

The technology to prevent rail disasters is in our hands — just as it was in 2013. While these and future technologies are likely to reduce the risks of transporting dangerous goods across Canada and the United States, the interactions between humans and other elements of the system — the “human factors” — will remain predominant.

As we now know in the Lac-Megantic accident, the train carrying 7.7 million litres of crude oil sped toward the small Quebec town at 104 km/h before derailing, killing 47 people in the resulting fire and explosions on July 6, 2013.

Hours before derailing, the train was parked and left running on the main track in Nantes, Que., awaiting departure. But shortly after the engineer parked the train, a locomotive engine caught fire and was turned off by the Nantes fire department.

Without power from the running locomotive engine, air slowly leaked from the air brake system. An insufficient number of handbrakes were applied and the train eventually began rolling downhill on its final journey toward Lac-Megantic.

Some of the causes and contributing factors in the Lac-Megantic rail disaster were not technical failures so much as they were failures of humans to properly interact with technology: To properly maintain a locomotive engine, to have knowledge of interactions between locomotive engines and air brake systems and to properly set and test the effectiveness of handbrakes.

Although technical standards were less stringent in 2013, technology did not fail us. In many of the causes and contributing factors of Lac-Megantic, it is evident that we failed to understand and interact with our technology.

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Disclosure information is available on the original site. To read the original article:

https://theconversation.com/technology-to-prevent-rail-disasters-is-https://theconvers

About the Author

Chris Bachmann is an Assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Waterloo.  His research interests include the interaction between transportation and economics, trade, energy, transportation network resiliency/criticality/robustness/vulnerability, risk, dangerous goods movement, transport economics, transport project and policy evaluation.