We are only one month into the new year and over 108 tornadoes have been confirmed in the U.S., and many more have been reported. This is only the third time in U.S. history that over 100 tornadoes have been reported in one month. Aside from the need for cleaning, repairing and rebuilding of damaged homes and businesses, tornadoes also lead to an increased risk of environmental pollution.
Tornadoes occur when the air is unstable. Cold air is pushed over warmer humid air, creating an updraft as the warm air rises and forming a high-speed rotating column with winds of about 300 mph. If this air column reaches the ground, it can intensify and accelerate, forming a tornado. The key ingredients: moist air at ground level, cool dry air higher up, and the change in wind speed or direction, each can be affected differently by climate change.
Pollution comes from various sources and is easy to visualize in the great amount of flying dust and dirt that clouds the air. Powerful tornadoes can also destroy pipelines and other chemical containers. This may result in the release of toxic pollutants like oil, asbestos, and other hazardous waste which contaminates ground water or soil.
After a tornado, one of the most dangerous man-made materials that has the potential to cause harm is asbestos. The destruction of buildings by a tornado can release a great amount of asbestos into the atmosphere that then settles and seeps into the ground. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral found in rocks and soil that can remain suspended in the air and enter your lungs when you inhale. These inhaled fibers can cause lung damage, including cancer. Asbestos is so harmful to our lungs that it is now government regulated. But homes and businesses built before 1980 commonly contain asbestos which is why, when these buildings are destroyed in a tornado, there is high risk of exposure.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Tornadoes can greatly impact the air you breathe regardless of your health status. However, Individuals living with chronic lung disease are at particularly high risk of developing health complications, so there are some steps that experts suggest you take to protect yourself.
- People who use supplemental oxygen need to prepare by having a backup tank and backup power source on hand. Check instructions or connect with your homecare delivery team or product manufacturer, to make sure the backup power source will work for your device. Let your power company and emergency responders know you are using a medical device that needs power. Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), like N95 face masks, can also protect from dust, chemical spills, etc.
- People living with asthma or COPD should have their Asthma or COPD Action Plan readily available. We also offer instructions to creating an Asthma or COPD Travel Pack to ensure you have all the medicines and instructions you need in one easily accessible place.
- People living with any chronic lung disease should create an emergency plan with their doctors ahead of time. This plan should include how to obtain safe alternative treatment or medications in case you can’t get to your normal health care provider.
There are also steps that everyone should take to prepare for a natural disaster available on our website.
Blog last updated: February 7, 2023