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Stay Safe during storm cleanup—separate woody debris, asbestos-containing materials, trash

  • 3/9/2022 3:07:00 PM
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DES MOINES—Sorting disaster debris after Saturday’s tornadoes is important—both to keep cleanup teams safe and to ensure debris is disposed of properly.

Many building materials such as “slate” or cement board siding, linoleum, tar paper and tar may contain asbestos. Disturbing those materials releases tiny fibers, which can increase long-term risks for cancer and lung disease. DNR recommends handling asbestos-containing materials cautiously and to be aware of federal requirements for commercial or non-residential buildings. When tearing down a building, keep asbestos-containing materials separate from other disaster debris. Generally, wetting the materials down reduces the risk of inhaling asbestos fibers, but check for possible electrical hazards first. For respiratory protection, avoid dusty areas and wear an N-95 mask. Contact the local landfill for disposal requirements. Avoid burning because it can release asbestos fibers.

Check with your county or city government for more information on debris and tree limb removal. Some communities offer hotlines and volunteer coordination.

After a disaster, there are several options for disposing of woody debris—excluding potentially asbestos-containing materials. It can be chipped and ground for a beneficial use such as fuel, composting, mulch or other uses. Trees and brush can be burned at a site controlled and supervised by a local government. DNR recommends landfilling woody debris be the last resort.

Depending upon the community, household waste from a disaster may be collected at curbside or through drop-off. Either way, it’s important to separate wastes into:

  • Household Hazardous Waste such as paints, solvents, cleaners, household chemicals and lawn & garden chemicals.
  • White & Electronic Goods including appliances, TVs and computers.
  • Metals such as furniture and filing cabinets.
  • Garbage including mattresses, wood or plastic furniture, etc.

Stay safe during cleanup activities. Find more information on DNR’s disaster assistance webpages, including a list of materials likely to contain asbestos. For general assistance, contact your local DNR field office. For questions regarding asbestos requirements contact Tom Wuehr, DNR environmental specialist, at 515-725-9576 or