January 18, 2019

Asbestos likely more widespread than previously thought

Naturally occurring asbestos minerals may be more widespread than previously thought, with newly discovered sources now identified within the Las Vegas metropolitan area. The asbestos-rich areas are in locations not previously considered to be at risk, according to new report that will be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Vancouver, Canada, on Sunday, 20 October.

“These minerals were found where one wouldn’t expect or think to look,” said Rodney Metcalf, associate professor of geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and co-researcher of the study. The naturally occurring asbestos was found in Boulder City, Nevada, in the path of a construction zone 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.

Asbestos is a family of fibrous minerals which are known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other serious respiratory related illnesses when the fibers are inhaled. The GSA presentation will focus on the discovery of types of asbestos that geologists call fibrous iron sodium amphiboles and fibrous actinolite in Clark County, Nevada, and the geological settings that caused the unusual asbestos formation, said Metcalf.

“[Asbestos] is like a precious metal deposit, it forms at the confluence of several geologic features, which vary at each location,” said Metcalf.

In this case, it was a geological confluence of groundwater interacting with rock salt and a cooling magma body deep below earth’s surface to form the fibers and create this type of asbestos, said Brenda Buck, a professor of geology at UNLV and co-researcher of the study.

Later the rock was brought to the surface where it now exposed to rain and wind that can disperse it. This is the first discovery of asbestos in this kind of geological setting and it suggests the minerals could occur in other similar settings around the globe, said Buck, who has a background in medical geology.

Many regulations have been created to protect people from exposure to mined and refined asbestos, like fibrous actinolite, which the scientists discovered. But some naturally occurring asbestos is not regulated or labeled toxic under federal law, though they can be just as dangerous or even more toxic to humans, said Buck.

Naturally occurring asbestos can also be harmful and difficult to control, especially when it becomes dust and can be transported on the wind.

The research is being performed while the construction for a Boulder City bypass has been delayed due to concerns about the hazard of the naturally occurring asbestos. Boulder City has about 15,000 residents, and is about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the Las Vegas metropolitan area, home to over 1.9 million people.

Scientists are still researching the amount of asbestos that is in the soil in the construction area, its toxicity to humans, and how far it can be transported by wind.

The new research Metcalf will be presenting could help scientists locate more formations of naturally occurring asbestos in areas that were not previously considered, he said.

“This means that there could be a lot of areas in the world that could have asbestos that we don’t know about. So there are people that are being exposed that have no idea,” said Buck.

The abstract can be found online at: https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2014AM/webprogram/Paper250494.html

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Geological Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Asbestos likely more widespread than previously thought

Boulder City bypass gets green light after asbestos testing shows no threat


Nevada Department of Transportation

This artist’s rendering shows what the redesigned interchange of Boulder City Bypass and U.S. 93 would look like at Railroad Pass. Railroad Pass Casino is at left. If U.S. 93 is designated an interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix, the bypass route would become part of the interstate, officials say.

Click to enlarge photo

This Nevada Department of Transportation graphic shows the route of the proposed Boulder City Bypass.

After a frustrating seven-month delay to allow for hundreds of tests of asbestos-tainted soil, construction of a bypass highway around Boulder City is back on track.

Officials with the Nevada Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada gave the green light after concluding workers could safely cut the highway through the hills around Boulder City because the asbestos, discovered by UNLV geologists in 2011, did not reach harmful levels. Construction is slated to begin in the spring, officials said today.

Asbestos, in strong enough concentrations, can trigger respiratory problems including scarred lungs and, in extreme cases, cancer.

To play it safe, construction zones will be heavily watered to prevent asbestos from becoming airborne and exposing workers. Additionally, there will be continued soil testing and real-time air sampling and, if exposure levels become unacceptable, contactors can halt work and launch additional mitigation, NDOT Project Manager Tony Lorenzi said.

The news “is a relief to everyone,” said Boulder City Mayor Roger Tober. “While initially the asbestos discovery caused alarm, this is just good news. For the levels that are there, there will be some mitigation, but it’s going to be taken care of.”

The $490 million highway project, more than 10 years in the making, would wend around Boulder City so traffic can move smoothly between Las Vegas and Arizona. Until the bypass is built, tourists, truckers and commuters must use U.S. 93, which slices into town where traffic slows miserably on busy days.

The bypass is envisioned as the first link in Interstate 11, a proposed interstate highway connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Testing conducted over the summer confirmed the presence of asbestos but concluded it was not at a threatening level.

The project will be conducted in two phases by NDOT and the RTC. Each agency conducted its own tests to meet their respective regulations.

“Phase 1 is what we are calling clean,” Project Manager Tony Lorenzi said.

The first phase, a 2.5-mile connector starting at U.S. 95 and heading easterly toward the Colorado River, is NDOT”s responsibility. Tests of 150 soil samples showed no asbestos concentrations higher than 0.25 percent, deeming them safe. The second phase — RTC’s 12.5-mile stretch that finishes the bypass to the east — involved testing of 461 samples for concentrations less than 1 percent. Fourteen samples tested above 1 percent.

These concentrations are standard for construction sites where there’s naturally occurring asbestos.

“The most important thing is the comfort of the public,” Lorenzi said. “We want them to know that construction will be done safely, in compliance with every agency. We’re doing it right.”

The asbestos findings will be discussed at an open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Elaine K. Smith Center Building, 700 Wyoming St., Boulder City. Representatives from Boulder City, the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, NDOT and the RTC will be there to discuss the project.


Boulder City bypass gets green light after asbestos testing shows no threat

Boulder City bypass project hits snag with naturally occurring asbestos discovery

CARSON CITY – Discovery of naturally occurring asbestos in the soils in a section of the proposed Boulder City bypass will cause a delay in the project as the state conducts a more comprehensive study.

“This was a bombshell that was dropped,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said Monday during a meeting of the state Transportation Board.

John Terry, assistant director of the state Transportation Department, said Monday the department’s own environmental studies conducted earlier did not detect the asbestos, which was discovered by a team of UNLV researchers and reported in December. ”We have never dealt with this before.”

He said after the UNLV findings were released, the department immediately assembled a task force to determine the most suitable way to progress with the project given the highly sensitive nature of the potential health risk to workers and residents in Boulder City and the surrounding areas.

The news also caused the department to cancel a contract for a frontage road.

Terry said the project would require a lot of dirt to be moved, resulting in a lot of flying dust, which could carry asbestos particles. Any asbestos-carrying dust would pose health risks to workers and nearby communities, board members were advised. Federal and international agencies have determined that asbestos is a human carcinogen.

“This could be a show stopper,” said Sandoval, who chairs the Transportation Board.

The Transportation Department’s task force determined the most appropriate strategy moving forward would be to procure an expert to do additional soil testing and a full analysis for asbestos concentrations within the project area. The Transportation Board authorized the department to spend up to $400,000 to hire a consultant to perform the study.

Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, said the agency has hired its own consultant, who has discovered the naturally occurring asbestos in two of the 10 holes surveyed. Quigley said 200 holes would be surveyed and the results should be known by May 21.

The RTC is joining with the state to finance the bypass.

Terry did not estimate the length of the delay.

In other action, the board approved spending $5.5 million for safety improvements and repaving of cracking surfaces on State Route 157, known as Kyle Canyon Road in Clark County.

The state originally put up $2 million for the $20 million project, which is mostly on federal land. The added $5.5 million will extend the road surface for another 10 years, Terry said.

The department accepted $20 million from the city of Las Vegas as its share for right of way and construction of the Martin Luther King extension over Charleston Boulevard.

And the department is contributing $35 million for construction of the airport connector project in Clark County, expected to cost more than $60 million, said Rudy Malfabon, director of the state Transportation Department.


Boulder City bypass project hits snag with naturally occurring asbestos discovery

Asbestos found in the air we breathe

News 3 has correction to a story which aired Thursday, Jan. 9 on News 3 live at 7. We reported that the small town of Libby Montana was evacuated because of asbestos contamination from a mine. This is similar to the natural occurring asbestos discovered near Boulder City and Henderson. Libby was not evacuated. The Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency in Libby in 2009 and ordered a cleanup of homes in the area.

LAS VEGAS — What’s in the air you breath?

A study by researchers at UNLV found asbestos in the air in Boulder City and southern Clark County. Researchers call our air hazardous and now other universities are joining in to find out how dangerous it is and to study possible cancers associated with it.

Researchers stay away from the word panic but that isn’t because it’s not dangerous. It’s just too early in the study to worry.

“What we have identified is a hazard and people should have the opportunity to know about it so they can make choices,” said UNLV Professor Brenda Buck, who is behind the research

The geologist was in the middle of a different study when she found naturally occurring asbestos outside boulder city
The same type of asbestos known to cause cancer and mesothelioma.

The comparison is Libby, Mont., a town with several illnesses related to the same type of asbestos found here in Nevada.


Asbestos found in the air we breathe

Geologists find natural asbestos fibers in Nevada

LAS VEGAS — Removing asbestos from an old building can be hazardous and expensive. So what happens if the ground outside is covered with the stuff for miles around?

Thats what a team of University of Nevada, Las Vegas geologists is trying to figure out after the surprise discovery of potentially toxic, asbestos-type minerals in rocks and dust from Boulder City to the southeastern edge of the Las Vegas Valley.

UNLV geology professor Brenda Buck said this marks the first discovery of naturally occurring asbestos fibers in Southern Nevada.

A peer-reviewed study detailing the find was published last month in the journal of the Soil Science Society of America.

So how worried should everyone be?

At this point we know enough to know there is a hazard. We dont know what the risk is, Buck told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Theres a lot of work that needs to be done. Until we know more, it would be a good idea to avoid dust from those areas.

That could be a tall order.

The study area takes in all of Boulder City and a wide swath of the Eldorado Valley, with tendrils that reach to the shore of Lake Mead and into the oldest parts of Henderson.

Its not everywhere, but I think youre going to have a hard time not finding it, Buck said. In every sample we looked at we found it. We found it pretty easily, too. I didnt have to look very hard.

For one test, Buck spent about three hours walking her horse along a dirt road in Boulder City. When she was done, she found asbestos fibers on her pants and her shoes.

The last thing we want to do is upset people or cause a panic. But on the other side, we dont want to give people assurances we cant give, said UNLV geologist Rodney Metcalf, who partnered with Buck on the study. We cant in good conscience say theres no problem.

The long, thin minerals were forged roughly 13 million years ago in the roots of volcanoes, also known as plutons.

Boulder City sits on top of one of these plutons, Metcalf said.

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The fibers have been weathering from the ground for the past 12 million years or so, giving them plenty of time to spread out, Buck said.

She specializes in something called medical geology, basically the study of the health impacts of minerals. She was in the midst of sampling arsenic in the dust blowing from Nellis Dunes when she came across a fibrous mineral in one of her samples. She later started talking to Metcalf about the asbestos-like fibers he was studying in northwestern Arizona, and the two decided to go looking for trouble in similar rock deposits in Southern Nevada.

What they mostly found was a mineral called actinolite, one of six types of asbestos regulated as a toxic substance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Buck said she notified several people at the EPA about her discovery.

Asbestos fibers cant be absorbed through the skin, but if inhaled or swallowed they can spawn a range of deadly diseases that might not develop for a decade or decades.

The real pathway to humans is in the air, Metcalf said. The fibers are too tiny to be seen with the naked eye and so light that they can stay aloft indefinitely once theyve been stirred up by the wind or the tires on a vehicle.

Asbestos exposure is linked to mesothelioma, cancer of the lungs, larynx and ovaries, depressed immune function, and other disorders.

Theres no known safe amount, Buck said. The good news is not everyone who is exposed gets sick.

Buck, Metcalf and company plan to continue their research and expand their study area under a three-year grant from the Bureau of Land Management.

That work will include taking a closer look at other potential trouble spots in Clark County, most of it contained within the roughly 1,200 square miles of desert between U.S. 95 and the Colorado River from Boulder City to the southern tip of the state.

Buck said the bureau wants to know more about where such deposits are and what kind of risks they pose. Theyre worried about their workers, she said.

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Hawaii are in the early stages of tests to determine how carcinogenic the fibers in Southern Nevada might be. They also plan to conduct a health assessment to see if any documented cases of mesothelioma, a rare cancer closely associated with asbestos, could be the result of environmental exposure in or around Boulder City, Buck said.

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Metcalf said asbestos is actually a loaded term, with varying definitions used by doctors, geologists and environmental regulators. For example, he said, the fibers he has found in Mohave County, Ariz., do not meet the regulatory definition of asbestos. But that doesnt mean theyre safe. In fact, they are similar to those found in Libby, Mont., where so much toxic soil was spread around by a nearby mine that the entire small town has been declared a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency.

You get this debate about is this asbestos or is it not, Metcalf said. Its really not the issue. The issue is, is it toxic.

Buck grew up in Montana and has cousins who got sick and died in Libby.

She said she started taking special precautions in the field after the first fibers were found around Boulder City.

As soon as I knew they were there, I sure as hell did. I wear a mask, Buck said.

The discovery also forced her to revamp her lab at UNLV to make it safer.

The whole point is dont let it get into the air. You cant just drag it in and expose everyone to it, Buck said.

For the same reason, Buck has decided not to take college students into the field with her to help collect samples as she normally would. She doesnt want to expose them to something with the potential to shorten their lives

Theyre just so young, Buck said.

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Geologists find natural asbestos fibers in Nevada