"Environmental Hazards Remain After Joplin Tornado"

"JOPLIN, Mo. -- As residents confront a gigantic cleanup following the tornado that savaged Joplin, experts say environmental dangers could lurk amid the mountains of debris in the southwestern Missouri city and even in the water and air.

Damage from tornadoes, like floods and hurricanes, often goes beyond what is readily visible. Liquid fuels and chemicals can leak from ruptured containers and contaminate groundwater. Ruined buildings may contain asbestos. Fires can generate smoke containing soot, dioxins and other pollutants. Household, industrial and medical wastes are strewn about.

In the initial hours after the April 24 twister, the odor of gasoline was evident around several flattened service stations. A large fire burned for hours near the devastated St. John's Regional Medical Center. Heavy rains caused flash flooding, possibly fouling local waterways.

Yet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency teams sent to inspect the damage turned up no serious pollution issues in the first week, although the search was continuing, spokesman Chris Whitley said."

Alan Scher Zagier and John Flesher report for the Associated Press May 31, 2011.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011