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SEPTEMBER 14, 2011 - Two recent events are highlighting a gap in most Canadians' emergency preparedness - a gap that can be filled easily.

The September 9 earthquake off Vancouver Island has West Coast residents again thinking about "the big one", and officials again urging people to be prepared for disaster. But their suggested emergency kit needs some additions... protective clothing and filtered breathing masks.

Most public structure in Canada built before 1980 contain asbestos. And an earthquake or disaster that causes property damage will likely release asbestos fibres into the air. People who survive the disaster may not survive the long-term lung damage caused by the fibres.

The potential toll is being seen in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York.

The New York attacks produced more than a million tons of asbestos-laced debris. A 2006 study found that a third of the clean-up workers had abnormal pulmonary function tests. Seventy percent had "worsened upper or lower respiratory symptoms." A second report found that even workers who joined the clean-up process months after the attack developed "significant respiratory health problems."

Officials expect more victims of the 9\11 cleanup to emerge in the coming years. This is based on research showing that asbestos-related diseases can appear as much as 50 years after exposure to asbestos fibres, and that 20-30 percent of the people exposed will get respiratory diseases.

Sheryl Thompson, Executive Director of The Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims says, "In an emergency we're all focussed on survival. And with only a bit of effort we can do a lot to ensure that immediate survival isn't undercut by long-term health problems."

The Society urges all Canadians to consider adding protective clothing and breathing masks to their personal emergency preparedness kits.

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