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August 21, 2018

Well: Landscapes Tainted by Asbestos

Brenda Buck, left, and Rodney Metcalf from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas examining rocks in Boulder City, Nev., for naturally occurring asbestos.Steve Andrascik/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated PressBrenda Buck, left, and Rodney Metcalf from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas examining rocks in Boulder City, Nev., for naturally occurring asbestos.
Poison Pen
Poison Pen

Deborah Blum writes about chemicals and the environment.

For the past few years, Brenda Buck has been sampling the dust blowing across southern Nevada. Until recently, she focused on the risks of airborne elements such as arsenic. But then she started noticing an oddity in her samples, a sprinkling of tiny, hairlike mineral fibers.

She found them on herself as well. After a ride on horseback down a dirt road 20 miles south of Las Vegas, her clothes and boots were dappled with the fibrous material. Dr. Buck, a professor of geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, turned to her colleagues to help identify it.

Their verdict: asbestos. And lots of it.

In a paper published late last year, titled “Naturally Occurring Asbestos: Potential for Human Exposure, Southern Nevada, USA,” Dr. Buck and her colleagues reported that the fibers were similar to those found at asbestos-contaminated Superfund sites and warned that they “could be transported by wind, water, cars or on clothing after outdoor recreational activities.” The research raises the possibility that many communities in the region, including Las Vegas, may face a previously unknown hazard.

Dr. Buck and her co-author Rodney V. Metcalf, a fellow U.N.L.V. geology professor, are now trying to quantify the range and the danger posed by natural asbestos-bearing mineral deposits spread across 53,000 acres, stretching from the southern shore of Lake Mead to the edges of the McCullough Range. “Nobody wants bad news — we’re all hoping the health risks will be very low,” Dr. Buck said in an interview. “But the fact is, we don’t know that yet.”

Similar concerns are arising in an unexpectedly wide swath of the United States: Naturally occurring asbestos deposits now have been mapped in locations across the country, from Staten Island to the foothills of the Sierras in California.

Elongated asbestos fibers are created by natural mineral formations. When they turn up in industrial products, it is because people have excavated them and refined them for use — a practice dating back more than 2,000 years. Ancient Greeks used asbestos to strengthen everything from napkins to lamp wicks.

Stories of asbestos-linked illnesses date back almost as long. But it was the post-World War II embrace of these fibers, in products ranging from insulating materials to ceiling tiles to roofing shingles, that provided undeniable evidence of health effects. By the 1960s, scientists had demonstrated that a chain of occupational illnesses, including a lung cancer called mesothelioma, could be directly linked to the presence of such mineral fibers.

The term asbestos technically refers to a group of six silicate-based fibrous minerals. But this definition may underestimate the extent of naturally occurring risks, scientists say. The mineral erionite, for instance, also forms needlelike structures, which have been linked to startlingly high levels of mesothelioma in Turkey and which have recently been discovered in the oil-and-gas boom regions of North Dakota. The discovery of airborne erionite fibers in North Dakota recently led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to describe it as “an emerging North American hazard.”

“Essentially, these fibers flow aerodynamically into the deep lung tissue and lodge there” said Geoffrey Plumlee, a geochemist with the United States Geological Survey in Denver. They remain embedded for years, like needles in a pincushion, spurring the onset of not only mesothelioma but also other lung cancers and diseases of the respiratory system.

By the 1970s such health effects were so well documented that the Environmental Protection Agency moved to limit asbestos use, and in 1989 the agency banned almost all industrial use of the minerals. But a recent cascade of research has renewed scientific worries.

For one thing, recent soil studies show that residential developments have spread into mineral-rich regions. California’s state capital, Sacramento, for example, spilled into neighboring El Dorado County, where, it turned out, whole neighborhoods were built across a swatch of asbestos deposits.

And sophisticated epidemiological studies have shown that this was more than an occupational health issue. The small mining town of Libby, Mont., provided one of the most dramatic case studies. Almost a fifth of the residents have now received diagnoses of asbestos-linked illnesses, from mesothelioma to severe scarring of lung tissue.

When these conditions began cropping up across the entire town in the late 1990s, investigators assumed that those sickened were all workers at a nearby mine. But the illnesses weren’t appearing only in mine workers. Family members were stricken, too, as were residents of the town who had nothing to do with the mining business.

Investigations by alarmed government agencies — including the E.P.A, the Geological Survey and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — established that miners brought asbestos fibers back to town with them on clothes, vehicles and other possessions. But residents were also exposed to fibers blowing about the surrounding environment — and, to the dismay of researchers, people were being sickened by far smaller exposures than had been thought to cause harm.

“Libby really started the new focus on the issue,” said Bradley Van Gosen, a research geochemist with the Geological Survey in Denver. Dr. Van Gosen has been put in charge of a new U.S.G.S. mapping project, an ambitious effort to trace the minerals not only across Western mining states but also elsewhere, from the Upper Midwest to a rambling path up the Eastern Seaboard, starting in southern Appalachia and stretching into Maine.

Dr. Van Gosen said that most of the Eastern deposits were linked to an ancient crustal boundary, perhaps a billion years old, that underlies mountain ranges like the Appalachians. Wherever they are found, though, minerals in the asbestos family tend to form when magnesium, silica and water are transformed by superheated magma from the earth’s mantle.

In Western states, such filamented minerals tend to result from volcanic activity. In the Midwest, where fibers have recently turned up associated with mining interests in Minnesota and Wisconsin, geologists suspect they originated in ancient magnesium-rich seafloors. A recent study in Minnesota linked an increased risk of death among miners to time spent working in mines contaminated by such deposits.

“It has the potential to be a huge deal,” said Christopher P. Weis, toxicology adviser to the director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. “And we want to get the word out, because this is something that can be addressed if we tackle it upfront.”

Dr. Buck’s discovery of similar hazards in southern Nevada was the first time that naturally occurring asbestos had been reported in the region. At this point, she and her colleagues are simply trying to figure out the extent of the problem. A leading mesothelioma researcher, Dr. Michele Carbone of the University of Hawaii, is analyzing the fibers to help establish the magnitude of any health risk. Dr. Buck and Dr. Metcalf are expanding their sampling deeper into the Nevada desert, trying to build a better map of the hazardous regions.

“We live here. Our children are here,” Dr. Buck said. “We want very much to get this right.”

And they are approaching their discovery with personal caution. They now wear protective gear while sampling, and Dr. Buck has decided against taking her graduate students out for what appears to be risky fieldwork.

On a larger scale, researchers are investigating alternatives to creating large forbidden zones, such as wetting down roads or requiring that people in high-exposure areas wear protective masks and gear. But even small measures, like bathing after exposure and washing contaminated clothing separately, may help, Dr. Weis said.

“We can be smart and efficient about this, both at the government and at the personal level,” he said.

This article is from:

Well: Landscapes Tainted by Asbestos

Poison Pen: Landscapes Tainted by Asbestos

Brenda Buck, left, and Rodney Metcalf from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas examining rocks in Boulder City, Nev., for naturally occurring asbestos.Steve Andrascik/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated PressBrenda Buck, left, and Rodney Metcalf from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas examining rocks in Boulder City, Nev., for naturally occurring asbestos.
Poison Pen
Poison Pen

Deborah Blum writes about chemicals and the environment.

For the past few years, Brenda Buck has been sampling the dust blowing across southern Nevada. Until recently, she focused on the risks of airborne elements such as arsenic. But then she started noticing an oddity in her samples, a sprinkling of tiny, hairlike mineral fibers.

She found them on herself as well. After a ride on horseback down a dirt road 20 miles south of Las Vegas, her clothes and boots were dappled with the fibrous material. Dr. Buck, a professor of geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, turned to her colleagues to help identify it.

Their verdict: asbestos. And lots of it.

In a paper published late last year, titled “Naturally Occurring Asbestos: Potential for Human Exposure, Southern Nevada, USA,” Dr. Buck and her colleagues reported that the fibers were similar to those found at asbestos-contaminated Superfund sites and warned that they “could be transported by wind, water, cars or on clothing after outdoor recreational activities.” The research raises the possibility that many communities in the region, including Las Vegas, may face a previously unknown hazard.

Dr. Buck and her co-author Rodney V. Metcalf, a fellow U.N.L.V. geology professor, are now trying to quantify the range and the danger posed by natural asbestos-bearing mineral deposits spread across 53,000 acres, stretching from the southern shore of Lake Mead to the edges of the McCullough Range. “Nobody wants bad news — we’re all hoping the health risks will be very low,” Dr. Buck said in an interview. “But the fact is, we don’t know that yet.”

Similar concerns are arising in an unexpectedly wide swath of the United States: Naturally occurring asbestos deposits now have been mapped in locations across the country, from Staten Island to the foothills of the Sierras in California.

Elongated asbestos fibers are created by natural mineral formations. When they turn up in industrial products, it is because people have excavated them and refined them for use — a practice dating back more than 2,000 years. Ancient Greeks used asbestos to strengthen everything from napkins to lamp wicks.

Stories of asbestos-linked illnesses date back almost as long. But it was the post-World War II embrace of these fibers, in products ranging from insulating materials to ceiling tiles to roofing shingles, that provided undeniable evidence of health effects. By the 1960s, scientists had demonstrated that a chain of occupational illnesses, including a lung cancer called mesothelioma, could be directly linked to the presence of such mineral fibers.

The term asbestos technically refers to a group of six silicate-based fibrous minerals. But this definition may underestimate the extent of naturally occurring risks, scientists say. The mineral erionite, for instance, also forms needlelike structures, which have been linked to startlingly high levels of mesothelioma in Turkey and which have recently been discovered in the oil-and-gas boom regions of North Dakota. The discovery of airborne erionite fibers in North Dakota recently led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to describe it as “an emerging North American hazard.”

“Essentially, these fibers flow aerodynamically into the deep lung tissue and lodge there” said Geoffrey Plumlee, a geochemist with the United States Geological Survey in Denver. They remain embedded for years, like needles in a pincushion, spurring the onset of not only mesothelioma but also other lung cancers and diseases of the respiratory system.

By the 1970s such health effects were so well documented that the Environmental Protection Agency moved to limit asbestos use, and in 1989 the agency banned almost all industrial use of the minerals. But a recent cascade of research has renewed scientific worries.

For one thing, recent soil studies show that residential developments have spread into mineral-rich regions. California’s state capital, Sacramento, for example, spilled into neighboring El Dorado County, where, it turned out, whole neighborhoods were built across a swatch of asbestos deposits.

And sophisticated epidemiological studies have shown that this was more than an occupational health issue. The small mining town of Libby, Mont., provided one of the most dramatic case studies. Almost a fifth of the residents have now received diagnoses of asbestos-linked illnesses, from mesothelioma to severe scarring of lung tissue.

When these conditions began cropping up across the entire town in the late 1990s, investigators assumed that those sickened were all workers at a nearby mine. But the illnesses weren’t appearing only in mine workers. Family members were stricken, too, as were residents of the town who had nothing to do with the mining business.

Investigations by alarmed government agencies — including the E.P.A, the Geological Survey and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — established that miners brought asbestos fibers back to town with them on clothes, vehicles and other possessions. But residents were also exposed to fibers blowing about the surrounding environment — and, to the dismay of researchers, people were being sickened by far smaller exposures than had been thought to cause harm.

“Libby really started the new focus on the issue,” said Bradley Van Gosen, a research geochemist with the Geological Survey in Denver. Dr. Van Gosen has been put in charge of a new U.S.G.S. mapping project, an ambitious effort to trace the minerals not only across Western mining states but also elsewhere, from the Upper Midwest to a rambling path up the Eastern Seaboard, starting in southern Appalachia and stretching into Maine.

Dr. Van Gosen said that most of the Eastern deposits were linked to an ancient crustal boundary, perhaps a billion years old, that underlies mountain ranges like the Appalachians. Wherever they are found, though, minerals in the asbestos family tend to form when magnesium, silica and water are transformed by superheated magma from the earth’s mantle.

In Western states, such filamented minerals tend to result from volcanic activity. In the Midwest, where fibers have recently turned up associated with mining interests in Minnesota and Wisconsin, geologists suspect they originated in ancient magnesium-rich seafloors. A recent study in Minnesota linked an increased risk of death among miners to time spent working in mines contaminated by such deposits.

“It has the potential to be a huge deal,” said Christopher P. Weis, toxicology adviser to the director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. “And we want to get the word out, because this is something that can be addressed if we tackle it upfront.”

Dr. Buck’s discovery of similar hazards in southern Nevada was the first time that naturally occurring asbestos had been reported in the region. At this point, she and her colleagues are simply trying to figure out the extent of the problem. A leading mesothelioma researcher, Dr. Michele Carbone of the University of Hawaii, is analyzing the fibers to help establish the magnitude of any health risk. Dr. Buck and Dr. Metcalf are expanding their sampling deeper into the Nevada desert, trying to build a better map of the hazardous regions.

“We live here. Our children are here,” Dr. Buck said. “We want very much to get this right.”

And they are approaching their discovery with personal caution. They now wear protective gear while sampling, and Dr. Buck has decided against taking her graduate students out for what appears to be risky fieldwork.

On a larger scale, researchers are investigating alternatives to creating large forbidden zones, such as wetting down roads or requiring that people in high-exposure areas wear protective masks and gear. But even small measures, like bathing after exposure and washing contaminated clothing separately, may help, Dr. Weis said.

“We can be smart and efficient about this, both at the government and at the personal level,” he said.

Continue reading:

Poison Pen: Landscapes Tainted by Asbestos

Landscapes Tainted by Asbestos

Brenda Buck, left, and Rodney Metcalf from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas examining rocks in Boulder City, Nev., for naturally occurring asbestos.Steve Andrascik/Las Vegas Review-Journal, via Associated PressBrenda Buck, left, and Rodney Metcalf from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas examining rocks in Boulder City, Nev., for naturally occurring asbestos.
Poison Pen
Poison Pen

Deborah Blum writes about chemicals and the environment.

For the past few years, Brenda Buck has been sampling the dust blowing across southern Nevada. Until recently, she focused on the risks of airborne elements such as arsenic. But then she started noticing an oddity in her samples, a sprinkling of tiny, hairlike mineral fibers.

She found them on herself as well. After a ride on horseback down a dirt road 20 miles south of Las Vegas, her clothes and boots were dappled with the fibrous material. Dr. Buck, a professor of geology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, turned to her colleagues to help identify it.

Their verdict: asbestos. And lots of it.

In a paper published late last year, titled “Naturally Occurring Asbestos: Potential for Human Exposure, Southern Nevada, USA,” Dr. Buck and her colleagues reported that the fibers were similar to those found at asbestos-contaminated Superfund sites and warned that they “could be transported by wind, water, cars or on clothing after outdoor recreational activities.” The research raises the possibility that many communities in the region, including Las Vegas, may face a previously unknown hazard.

Dr. Buck and her co-author Rodney V. Metcalf, a fellow U.N.L.V. geology professor, are now trying to quantify the range and the danger posed by natural asbestos-bearing mineral deposits spread across 53,000 acres, stretching from the southern shore of Lake Mead to the edges of the McCullough Range. “Nobody wants bad news — we’re all hoping the health risks will be very low,” Dr. Buck said in an interview. “But the fact is, we don’t know that yet.”

Similar concerns are arising in an unexpectedly wide swath of the United States: Naturally occurring asbestos deposits now have been mapped in locations across the country, from Staten Island to the foothills of the Sierras in California.

Elongated asbestos fibers are created by natural mineral formations. When they turn up in industrial products, it is because people have excavated them and refined them for use — a practice dating back more than 2,000 years. Ancient Greeks used asbestos to strengthen everything from napkins to lamp wicks.

Stories of asbestos-linked illnesses date back almost as long. But it was the post-World War II embrace of these fibers, in products ranging from insulating materials to ceiling tiles to roofing shingles, that provided undeniable evidence of health effects. By the 1960s, scientists had demonstrated that a chain of occupational illnesses, including a lung cancer called mesothelioma, could be directly linked to the presence of such mineral fibers.

The term asbestos technically refers to a group of six silicate-based fibrous minerals. But this definition may underestimate the extent of naturally occurring risks, scientists say. The mineral erionite, for instance, also forms needlelike structures, which have been linked to startlingly high levels of mesothelioma in Turkey and which have recently been discovered in the oil-and-gas boom regions of North Dakota. The discovery of airborne erionite fibers in North Dakota recently led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to describe it as “an emerging North American hazard.”

“Essentially, these fibers flow aerodynamically into the deep lung tissue and lodge there” said Geoffrey Plumlee, a geochemist with the United States Geological Survey in Denver. They remain embedded for years, like needles in a pincushion, spurring the onset of not only mesothelioma but also other lung cancers and diseases of the respiratory system.

By the 1970s such health effects were so well documented that the Environmental Protection Agency moved to limit asbestos use, and in 1989 the agency banned almost all industrial use of the minerals. But a recent cascade of research has renewed scientific worries.

For one thing, recent soil studies show that residential developments have spread into mineral-rich regions. California’s state capital, Sacramento, for example, spilled into neighboring El Dorado County, where, it turned out, whole neighborhoods were built across a swatch of asbestos deposits.

And sophisticated epidemiological studies have shown that this was more than an occupational health issue. The small mining town of Libby, Mont., provided one of the most dramatic case studies. Almost a fifth of the residents have now received diagnoses of asbestos-linked illnesses, from mesothelioma to severe scarring of lung tissue.

When these conditions began cropping up across the entire town in the late 1990s, investigators assumed that those sickened were all workers at a nearby mine. But the illnesses weren’t appearing only in mine workers. Family members were stricken, too, as were residents of the town who had nothing to do with the mining business.

Investigations by alarmed government agencies — including the E.P.A, the Geological Survey and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — established that miners brought asbestos fibers back to town with them on clothes, vehicles and other possessions. But residents were also exposed to fibers blowing about the surrounding environment — and, to the dismay of researchers, people were being sickened by far smaller exposures than had been thought to cause harm.

“Libby really started the new focus on the issue,” said Bradley Van Gosen, a research geochemist with the Geological Survey in Denver. Dr. Van Gosen has been put in charge of a new U.S.G.S. mapping project, an ambitious effort to trace the minerals not only across Western mining states but also elsewhere, from the Upper Midwest to a rambling path up the Eastern Seaboard, starting in southern Appalachia and stretching into Maine.

Dr. Van Gosen said that most of the Eastern deposits were linked to an ancient crustal boundary, perhaps a billion years old, that underlies mountain ranges like the Appalachians. Wherever they are found, though, minerals in the asbestos family tend to form when magnesium, silica and water are transformed by superheated magma from the earth’s mantle.

In Western states, such filamented minerals tend to result from volcanic activity. In the Midwest, where fibers have recently turned up associated with mining interests in Minnesota and Wisconsin, geologists suspect they originated in ancient magnesium-rich seafloors. A recent study in Minnesota linked an increased risk of death among miners to time spent working in mines contaminated by such deposits.

“It has the potential to be a huge deal,” said Christopher P. Weis, toxicology adviser to the director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. “And we want to get the word out, because this is something that can be addressed if we tackle it upfront.”

Dr. Buck’s discovery of similar hazards in southern Nevada was the first time that naturally occurring asbestos had been reported in the region. At this point, she and her colleagues are simply trying to figure out the extent of the problem. A leading mesothelioma researcher, Dr. Michele Carbone of the University of Hawaii, is analyzing the fibers to help establish the magnitude of any health risk. Dr. Buck and Dr. Metcalf are expanding their sampling deeper into the Nevada desert, trying to build a better map of the hazardous regions.

“We live here. Our children are here,” Dr. Buck said. “We want very much to get this right.”

And they are approaching their discovery with personal caution. They now wear protective gear while sampling, and Dr. Buck has decided against taking her graduate students out for what appears to be risky fieldwork.

On a larger scale, researchers are investigating alternatives to creating large forbidden zones, such as wetting down roads or requiring that people in high-exposure areas wear protective masks and gear. But even small measures, like bathing after exposure and washing contaminated clothing separately, may help, Dr. Weis said.

“We can be smart and efficient about this, both at the government and at the personal level,” he said.

Original article: 

Landscapes Tainted by Asbestos

Geologists find natural asbestos fibers in Southern 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.

(Page 2 of 3)

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.

(Page 3 of 3)

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.

See the article here:

Geologists find natural asbestos fibers in Southern Nevada

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.

(Page 2 of 3)

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.

(Page 3 of 3)

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