Naturally occurring asbestos fibers discovered in rocks and dust in Nevada

8 Jan 2014 by under News, Research/Treatment

actinolite asbestos 100x100 Naturally occurring asbestos fibers discovered in rocks and dust in NevadaA team of geologists from the (UNLV) are examining an area in Southern Nevada where naturally occurring asbestos fibers have been discovered in rocks and dust. The area under investigation stretches from Boulder City to the southeastern edge of the Las Vegas Valley, which encompasses about 1,200 square miles.

Asbestos exposure has been linked to the development of serious diseases including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs, and mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer. Mesothelioma most often affects the lining of the lungs and/or abdomen, and can rarely affect the lining of the heart. Asbestos fibers are microscopic, and pose a danger when they become airborne where they can be inhaled or ingested.

The discovery of asbestos-containing rocks was reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Dec 25, after UNLV geology professor Brenda Buck reported the find. She told the Review-Journal this is the first discovery of naturally occurring asbestos fibers in Southern Nevada. She said the rocks could pose a public health hazard, but it is too early to know the severity of the risk.

Buck specializes in medical geology, which examines the health impacts of minerals. She discovered the asbestos-containing rocks while working on a sample of dust from Nellis Dunes, which contains arsenic. One of her samples included a fibrous mineral, which is the typical structure of asbestos. She consulted with a fellow geologist at UNLV, Rodney Metcalf, who was studying asbestos-like minerals in Arizona. The pair decided to conduct a study on similar rocks in Southern Nevada.

The Review-Journal reports initial findings of the study turned up a mineral called actinolite, which is one of six types of asbestos regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a toxic substance. While Metcalf is quick to caution that not all asbestos falls into a category that meets the “regulatory definition” of asbestos, he also says that does not mean these asbestos-like minerals are safe.

In fact, he told the Review-Journal the minerals he and Buck discovered in Southern Nevada are similar to the type from Libby, Mont., where an asbestos mining operation contaminated the entire town with deadly asbestos dust. Thousands of people fell ill and died, and the town is still an EPA site.

Ironically, Buck grew up in Montana and had family affected by asbestos exposure in Libby, including relatives who became sick and died.

The study in Nevada will proceed with an abundance of caution, including wearing respiratory protective equipment in the field and upgrading safety procedures in the UNLV laboratory to prevent against airborne exposure.

For updates and information, follow Review-Journal reporter Henry Brean on Twitter at @RefriedBrean.


Las Vegas Review-Journal

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