Asbestos More Prevalent than Previously Thought

November 11, 2014A recent study shows naturally occurring asbestos minerals might be present in greater amounts in certain areas than previously suspected. This is of special concern in highly populated areas near construction zones. Recent research was conducted in Boulder City, NV, an area just a short distance from Las Vegas. Currently, a construction project to build a multi-million dollar highway called the Boulder City Bypass, the first stage of an I-11 corridor planned between Las Vegas and Arizona is on hold due to asbestos concerns. The area was not considered high-risk for asbestos minerals and was not an area in which safety specialists originally thought to measure asbestos levels. The recent findings, which were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in October, expressed concern over asbestos and extrapolated that naturally occurring asbestos minerals could be more wide-spread than previously thought in many areas. The asbestos in question was believed to be in Clark County and other areas and is considered an unusual formation. Essentially, several variables must be present in order for the formation to occur, much like that of precious metal deposits. It is composed of fibrous iron sodium amphiboles and fibrous actinolite and forms at the confluence of several geological features which vary from location to location. In the Clark County case, it was the combination of groundwater, rock salt, and cooling magma deep within the earth’s surface that caused formation. Construction from the highway project is unearthing the asbestos and exposing it to rain and wind. The concern is this makes the particles air born and causes them to disperse uncontrolled throughout the area.

Regulations are Difficult

Regulations are in place in certain industries to protect against asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, no action has been taken to regulate or label the presence of naturally occurring asbestos such as this, and some believe it would do little good anyway. Researchers warn this type of exposure is just as dangerous, and in some cases even more so, than other types of asbestos exposure. This is in part due to the inability to control naturally occurring asbestos. Once air born, it can be transported anywhere and inhaled unknowingly. Essentially, unlike controlled environments in which asbestos is knowingly used, naturally occurring air born asbestos is an invisible threat.

Potential Threat to the Area

Researchers and health advocates have concerns that the Boulder City bypass construction project could pose a threat to workers, as well as the more than 2 million people living in the area. The project has already been delayed because of the concerns related to the presence of asbestos. Research efforts continue in order to determine just how dangerous the exposure could be for those near the project. Scientists want to better understand how much asbestos is present in the soil and how much exposure is needed to reach levels of toxicity. They are also studying the effects of the wind on the asbestos particles. Researchers are also concerned that Clark County is not the only area in which naturally occurring asbestos exposure could be a problem. If this type of asbestos has formed in other areas, construction projects could just as easily unearth the contaminants and cause them to become air born. There is concern that people around the world are regularly exposed to this type of asbestos on a regular basis without ever realizing it.

Danger of Asbestos

Asbestos is a family of carcinogenic fibrous minerals. Asbestos exposure is a known cause of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other serious respiratory related illnesses. The severity of risk is related to the amount of asbestos to which a person has been exposed and the duration of exposure. Studies have also shown a link between asbestos exposure and other types of cancer, including bladder, brain, gallbladder, gastrointestinal tract, kidney, throat, voice box, and others. Additionally, the risk for developing cancer after asbestos exposure increases in people who smoke and suffer from existing lung diseases. References:
  • http://phys.org/news/2014-10-asbestos-widespread-previously-thought.html
  • http://www.webmd.com/lung/asbestos-exposure
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