Naturally Occurring Asbestos, A Non-Occupational Threat

Naturally Occurring Asbestos, A Non-Occupational Threat

While mesothelioma is largely an occupational disease, some cases can be attributed to exposure from the environment – after all, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Asbestos can be found naturally throughout the United States, but some parts of the country contain more of these tiny carcinogenic fibers than others. While in the East, asbestos can be found along some mountain ranges, the West dominates, with asbestos mines that stretch along the western coast.

While studying the rocky terrain of southern Nevada, two geoscience professors from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found a disturbingly high amount of asbestos across the landscape. This prompted them to investigate the instances of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, throughout the area. Using data from Nevada’s cancer registry, they found that instances of mesothelioma did appear to be higher than the national average. However, officials from the area disagree and point out the state health department had conducted their own analysis and concluded that residents were in no particular risk of asbestos exposure from the area.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that is commonly associated with asbestos exposure and older men, who spent their life working in asbestos mines, factories, steel mills, shipyards, power stations, and chemical plants. The long latency period between the time of asbestos exposure and illness is typically between 20-50 years, so the average person who is suffering from an asbestos-related disease is in their 70s. Data gathered from this population in the Nevada counties Clark and Nye, showed higher than expected levels of mesothelioma in people under the age of 55; especially women and even some children. The data published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology suggests that because these individuals are being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases under the age of 55 that in itself suggests that the exposure is not associated with their occupation, but rather the asbestos in the environment.


What causes natural asbestos fibers to become airborne?

Asbestos is a silicate mineral, which is the largest class of minerals that makes up around 90% of the earth’s crust. It is found in various types of rocks that have to be broken or crushed so the asbestos can be removed. Asbestos is found all over the world, and at its peak use in the United States, it was mined in 17 different locations. In addition to mines, asbestos can be found in the soil and can become airborne when the soil is disturbed. Humans can disturb this dust through digging, gardening, or traveling over unpaved areas that kick up the fibers. Unfortunately, it is not known how much of soil contains asbestos fibers, making it difficult to pinpoint exposure areas. Natural, un-mined asbestos can become exposed after a natural disaster such as a flood, earthquake, or tornado. Landslides displace the fibers and areas that were previously unharmed by asbestos can become contaminated with the carcinogen in just the blink of an eye. Natural rock erosion can also expose the fibers that are deep inside the serpentine and ultramafic rock formations.

Commercial development also poses a risk creating airborne asbestos fibers. Breaking ground for a new development disturbs the soil and crushes the rocks where asbestos can potentially be hiding. The findings from the two geological professors did contribute in a delay in the construction of a highway after copious amount of asbestos was found to be rampant throughout the soil. When the highway project eventually began, protective measures such as air monitoring and watering down the roadbed were used as a precaution.

While asbestos is not mined any longer in the United States, it still exists across the country and people are still able to unknowingly be exposed.  Its widespread use throughout the 20th century has put many steel workers, chemical plant workers, and other tradesmen and their families at risk for exposure. Many of those who worked in these occupations were unaware of the dangers of asbestos and companies neglected to tell their employees of the dangerous health risks.  Today, approximately 3,000 per year in the United States are diagnosed with mesothelioma as a direct result of their exposure decades earlier.  If you are suffering from an asbestos-caused illness or cancer, contact the attorneys at Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C. You may be entitled to compensation and GPW will work hard to get the money that you deserve.

Deborah Blum, “In Nevada,  a Controversy in the Wind,” The New York Times, (February 9, 2015). [Link]
Murry Wynes, “Mesothelioma in Younger People and Women in Southern Nevada Likely the Result of Asbestos in the Environment,” International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer,” (February 10, 2015). [Link]

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