Sixty years ago today, Kansas was hit with a deadly flood. Asbestos exposure likely followed.

On July 13, 1951, flooding in the rivers of Eastern Kansas left 500,000 people homeless and 24 dead. Sixty years later after the record-breaking flood, asbestos from flood-related demolition may still be victimizing flood survivors, rescue workers, and demolition crews. Back then, asbestos abatement was unheard of, and construction workers razing flood-damaged buildings were likely exposed to asbestos.

History.com reports that heavy rainfall began in June 1951 and continued through July13, dumping well over 25 inches on some areas in eastern Kansas. The Kansas, Neosho and Verdigris rivers began swelling in June. As the rain continued, flooding began all over the eastern half of the state. Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence were the cities that sustained the most damage from the flood, and those that asbestos exposure after the flood may have hit worst.

When the flood crested on July 13, two million acres of farmland were destroyed. In addition, History.com reported, the flooding caused fires and explosions in refinery oil tanks on the banks of the Kansas River: “$760 million in damages were caused by the flood. …Following the great 1951 flood, a series of reservoirs and levees were constructed all over the area. In 1993, these were credited with minimizing the damage from another record flood.”

Another state hard hit by floods, Iowa, provided this information about asbestos flood dangers: “The work of flood cleanup personnel involves the repair, renovation, removal, demolition, or salvage of flood-damaged structures and materials. Such materials may contain or be covered with asbestos. …Repair, renovation, and demolition operations often generate airborne asbestos, a mineral fiber that can cause chronic lung disease or [mesothelioma] cancer.”


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