Doctor explains dangers of asbestos as Marco Polo residents raise safety concerns

First it was the smoke and flames, then the reality of lives and possessions lost.

Now residents of the Marco Polo building are reaching out to express concern about another possible problem: asbestos exposure.

A resident reached out to KHON2 with concerns about it.

Most buildings built before the 1980s contain some asbestos, and with the amount of damage at Marco Polo, we wanted to know if residents allowed to move back in are putting themselves at risk.

KHON2 spoke with Dr. Haining Yang from the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, who says there are certain precautions that should be taken in cases like this before allowing residents to move back in to their units.

Asbestos materials used in older buildings can break up into fibers which can be deadly when they are inhaled, causing lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Yang says certain people with a genetic mutation are more susceptible to it, and the Environmental Protection Agency usually tests buildings to make sure they are safe from asbestos.

“Are we talking about microscopic amounts (that can cause damage)?” KHON2 asked.

“Yes, microscopic. Also I have to say that different types of asbestos have different levels of carcinogenic activity,” Yang said. “You won’t be able to see it because it’s very tiny fibers.”

Barbara Hudman lives on the 29th floor. She says residents should have been warned.

“When I went in, it was covered in soot. That was last week though,” Hudman said. “I went to the throat doctor this morning and I’m fine. I don’t cough or anything.”

Yang points out that in many cases, it can take several years before symptoms can appear from the effects of inhaling asbestos. Those symptoms are usually chest pains and shortness of breath.

We’re still with checking with the EPA and other agencies to see if any tests for asbestos were done before allowing residents to return home.

For more information on asbestos and mesothelioma, visit Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance’s website.

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