As you work on completing fall chores, it is a good idea to exercise caution. Some tasks, like prepping your garden for winter, may lead to you inadvertently becoming exposed to asbestos. People commonly consider gardening to be a healthy hobby that people of all ages can enjoy. However, even an activity that is generally healthy can have hidden risks.
Asbestos is a group of minerals known for their durability. Exposure to these minerals, which often occurs when someone inhales asbestos particles, can lead to aggressive health problems, such as mesothelioma.
Asbestos can be in the soil
Asbestos minerals occur naturally, so there is a chance that it could be naturally present in your garden soil. However, that chance may be small.
If asbestos is present in your garden soil, it is more likely there because someone distributed a product containing asbestos in the area. Because asbestos has insulative and fire-resistant properties, people added it to numerous building materials over the years. Tearing old shingles off a nearby garage or cutting into your home’s old clapboard siding could have released particles that contaminated the nearby soil.
Vermiculite is the biggest concern
Asbestos particles could be present in garden soil naturally or as contaminants from building materials. However, soil amendments are the most common way someone may become exposed to asbestos while gardening.
While most soil amendments are perfectly safe, some vermiculite products may contain asbestos. Vermiculite is used in some premixed potting soils and can be purchased alone to be mixed in potting soils. Its purpose is to increase aeration and water retention of the soil.
The vermiculite known to be contaminated with asbestos came from a mine in Libby, Montana. Because this mine closed in 1990, the Agency For Toxic Substances And Disease Registry (ATSDR) does not expect new products to contain such high amounts of asbestos.
Home gardeners can minimize asbestos exposure
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, home gardeners who use vermiculite infrequently have a low risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses. However, there are actions you can take to minimize exposure to asbestos when you garden.
Home gardeners can reduce asbestos exposure by:
- Having garden soil tested for contaminants. A soil test may be the only way to know for sure that your garden soil is free of asbestos.
- Covering soil with plants or mulch. Bare soil can easily become airborne.
- Using premixed potting soil. Premixed soil can result in less asbestos dust exposure than you might encounter when adding vermiculite to soil yourself.
- Keeping vermiculite wet when using it. This prevents dust particles from becoming airborne.
- Handling vermiculite outdoors. This provides better ventilation and reduces the chance of accidentally contaminating your home.
- Wearing an apron when using vermiculite and rinsing off your shoes immediately after. This can help you avoid bringing vermiculite dust into your home on clothing or shoes.
- Considering vermiculite alternatives. Peat moss, sawdust, perlite or bark can serve some of the same purposes.
The health effects of asbestos exposure often do not show up until decades later. If you believe you may have been exposed to asbestos, you may consider scheduling a medical examination with a doctor who specializes in asbestos-related conditions. Identifying an illness, like mesothelioma, early can help ensure you receive proper treatment as soon as possible.