Asbestos exposure can lead to serious diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. As a result, it makes sense that people want to know where they could run into asbestos.
Most asbestos exposure takes place at work, but that’s not the only place people may suffer exposure. Environmental asbestos can also cause illness. So, what should people know about environmental asbestos?
The different types of environmental asbestos
In its natural state, asbestos exists as a mineral. This mineral doesn’t present much of a threat so long as it remains intact and in the ground. However, it becomes a problem when the mineral’s crystalline fibers are disturbed and loosed into the air.
Traditionally, airborne asbestos fibers were the result of industrial use. Manufacturers used asbestos widely through the 1970s. Although most uses are now banned or restricted, asbestos fibers are still common in older homes, building materials and automobile brakes. As older homes and buildings deteriorate, their asbestos-laden products may start to crack or crumble. These “friable” materials then become serious health hazards.
Still, when most people think of “asbestos in the environment,” they aren’t thinking of the flooring or insulation in their homes. They’re thinking about the environment outside and surrounding their homes. As the CDC notes, you can find asbestos out there as well. There are several ways you may find yourself exposed to toxic levels of environmental asbestos:
- Mining and other projects disturb existing mineral deposits, freeing fibers into the air
- Natural weathering and erosion wear down mineral deposits near the surface
- Workers fail to properly secure and remove asbestos, allowing fibers to move through the air and environment
Studies have shown that environmental asbestos can be just as damaging as industrial asbestos. Although the CDC points out that background levels of asbestos are generally low, researchers have found links between certain areas with high levels of environmental asbestos and increased rates of mesothelioma.
This is why asbestos exposure is a real and present danger for people who live near places such as Swift Creek and Sumas Mountain in Whatcom County, Washington. The EPA has found toxic levels of the mineral in the creek and surrounding riverbends. When the creek floods, its waters can deposit asbestos across the surrounding lands. That asbestos can then get into the air afterward.
Similarly, the EPA monitors 51 Superfund sites where asbestos waste management presents an ever-present threat to the surrounding area. The EPA has historically capped these sites with soil to trap the asbestos, but recent reports suggest certain organic compounds in the soil could help the asbestos wash out into nearby streams and rivers.
Environmental asbestos exposure is rarely natural
Erosion and natural forces may be responsible for some of the asbestos that makes its way into the environment, but industry and manufacturing typically play a larger role. Accordingly, people who get mesothelioma, despite never working industrial jobs, will want to investigate their exposure.
When people suffer diseases due to environmental asbestos exposure, the question they’ll want to ask is: Who helped the asbestos get loose?