Natural disasters lead to lasting contamination threats

June 17, 2014

Natural disasters are highly disruptive to the communities that they strike. These cataclysmic events destroy homes, injure and sometimes kill people, and leave behind thousands of dollars worth of damage. And those are just the immediate effects. As pointed out by a recent article on Weather.com, it is becoming increasingly clear that natural disasters are creating long-term contamination issues that continue to threaten communities for years after the initial strike.

The news source cites Joplin, Missouri, where, in 2011, a mile-wide tornado destroyed many of the buildings in the 50,000-person town and killed 158 people. It took years for the surviving resident to recover from the devastation, but their problems are not finished. As it turns out, Joplin was a former lead mining town that at one time contained as many as 17 smelters. The fierce tornado winds managed to dig up as much as 9 million tons of toxic waste to the surface of the soil. Before the storm, the town had almost no lead contamination—in the aftermath, as many as 40 percent of yards in the town contained significant amounts of lead.

The lesson for other areas that occasionally face natural disasters is to be prepared for possible contamination. By working with environmental consultants, businesses and other local stakeholders can ensure that potential contamination is minimized prior to a storm, and that cleanup activities begin immediately during the aftermath. When an area is made fit for habitation again, it should not pose any threat to human health.