The Environmental Aspects of Asbestos Exposure

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This is a guest post by Faith Franz who has spent nearly two years researching and writing for The Mesothelioma Center. 

Although most asbestos exposure can be traced to occupational sources, environmental exposures still account for a significant number of asbestos-related diseases, such as malignant peritoneal mesothelioma.

The naturally occurring fibers are present in deposits across the world. Their natural state is just as dangerous as their refined state.

It’s relatively easy to accidentally disturb naturally occurring asbestos during various outdoor activities. The fibers are often interspersed with other harmless minerals, such as limestone and talc. And the deposits are occasionally – but not always – marked with warning signs. As a result, people may hike, picnic, or ride recreational vehicles in areas where asbestos contaminates the soil.

Environmental contamination from asbestos contributes even further to the risk of such exposure. Although it is illegal, some companies have dumped toxic asbestos debris in undesignated landfills. Many companies also pumped asbestos dust into the air near their facilities, where local residents were at risk for inhaling the carcinogenic fibers. This was the case in Spodden Valley, England (home to the world’s largest asbestos textile factory) and Thetford Mines, the center of Canada’s asbestos mining industry.

North America’s Biggest Environmental Exposure Hazards

The largest concentrations of environmental asbestos are typically located in rocky, mountainous areas. Perhaps the most notorious area in the United States is Libby, Montana.

Libby was a mining town that supplied vermiculite to various companies across the nation. However, the vermiculite was heavily contaminated with asbestos. While the miners and asbestos workers had an exceptionally high risk of inhaling the fibers, townspeople often came into contact with them in the environment. Many of the town’s residents are now dealing with the issues caused after inhaling the fibers in their gardens, backyards and even playgrounds. Many have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, given a cancer prognosis, and are receiving treatment.

The Clear Creek Management Area in California is considered one of the largest naturally occurring asbestos deposits in the world. Spanning more than 31,000 acres, the land is a popular recreational site for cyclists and fourwheelers. Although it has now been addressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hazard signs and asbestos warnings are still posted on its grounds.

The best way to avoid environmental asbestos exposure is to pay close and careful attention to such warnings. Avoid these areas whenever possible, and choose paved pathways over soil or packed dirt to reduce your risk of disturbing the deposits.

Author bio: Faith Franz has spent nearly two years researching and writing for The Mesothelioma Center.