As residents confront a gigantic cleanup following the tornado that savaged Joplin, environmental dangers could lurk amid the mountains of debris, and even in the water and air. But EPA teams are saying the damage could’ve been much worse—they’ve turned up no serious pollution issues in the first week, although the search is continuing, a spokesman said. 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, and fires generate deadly smoke containing soot, dioxins, and other pollutants.
The nation's deadliest single tornado in more than six decades packed winds of more than 200mph and measured a half-mile across. It killed at least 132 people and injured more than 900 while severely damaging or leveling many buildings in the city's industrial corridor, which includes chemical suppliers, natural gas companies, and paint manufacturers. An estimated 8,000 structures were destroyed. (Click for a Newser 101 on the Joplin tornado.)