Health authorities are warning residents to avoid handling loose asbestos, which they may encounter in quake-damaged homes and offices or in sweeping building rubble from sidewalks.
Asbestos, which can cause lung cancer and other ailments, was widely used in a variety of building materials, including roofing and floor tile, pipe covering, and thermal and acoustical insulation. Although it is usually found in older structures, asbestos materials were installed in some buildings as late as the 1980s. When torn or broken, these materials release tiny lung-scarring fibers into the air.
Officials urged residents to use a certified laboratory to test suspect materials, and to retain a licensed abatement contractor if asbestos removal is needed.
If immediate cleanup of loose asbestos is required, residents should gently wet the material to hold down dust and carefully wrap or double bag it in plastic bags. Asbestos debris may only be disposed of in an approved landfill.