Naturally occurring asbestos linked to higher cases of mesothelioma in Nevada and Arizona residents

12 Feb 2015 by under News

Actinolite   USGS Mineral Specimens 003 1 100x100 Naturally occurring asbestos linked to higher cases of mesothelioma in Nevada and Arizona residentsNaturally occurring asbestos minerals are human carcinogens and can cause a plethora of health effects, but how does one go about avoiding these dangerous minerals if they’re in the wind?

The issue came to light in 2012 when higher rates of mesothelioma were discovered by an epidemiologist observing cancer statistics from Clark County, Nevada. Upon learning of this puzzling occurrence, a team of geologists led by Dr. and Dr. Rodney Metcalf ventured through the nearby landscape only to discover disturbingly high amounts of actinolite deposits – an amphibole mineral known to cause asbestos-related diseases. The dangerous deposits were also found throughout the McCullough Range, Black Hill and Boulder City areas.

“In the arid climate of Nevada, populations may be exposed to these fibers through dust emissions that can occur from both natural wind erosion and anthropogenic activities. The evidence of fibrous amphiboles on car tires and on clothing after recreational activities shows that they can be brought back to family members and thus increase the risk of exposure for other populations besides those directly exposed through outdoor dust emissions,” the scientists explained.

When it comes to asbestos, there is no safe level of exposure. Once asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, it may lead to the development of asbestos diseases including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs, or mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer. Mesothelioma most often affects the lining of the lungs or abdomen, but it may also affect the lining of the heart. There is no known cure for mesothelioma.

Unfortunately, state officials with the Nevada Department of Health were not pleased by the scientists’ significant findings and refused to allow epidemiologist Dr. Francine Baumann to release the team’s discovery at a scientific conference. Dr. Buck and Dr. Metcalf were also jilted by state officials, who refused to listen and discuss their findings of naturally occurring asbestos. According to Dr. Metcalf, “no one from the health department has ever contacted us to ask for any information about the minerals.”

Dr. Baumann was recently able to publish the team’s findings in The Journal of Thoracic Oncology, linking the higher rates of mesothelioma patients under the age of 55, with some patients even teenaged, to the area’s naturally occurring asbestos. The study also found that the disease most commonly affects women in southern Nevada.

“I’ve always thought that with public health research, the important thing is getting information into the open and then discussing it,” Dr. Baumann said.

Arizona was also discovered to be at risk for asbestos-related health hazards in 2014 after Dr. Buck and Dr. Metcalf took a team of scientists to the northwest part of the state. The team came across several deposits of asbestos minerals across Mohave County. Last month, the team published their findings of natural asbestos in two journals – Geology and the Soil Science Society of America Journal.

“As with all naturally occurring asbestos, natural erosion processes have released the fibrous amphiboles from bedrock outcrops and redistributed them,” the scientists said. “Human exposures are primarily from both natural wind erosion and anthropogenic disturbances that release fibers from soil into the air. These processes are enhanced by the arid climate of the region (Nevada and Arizona).”

Sources:
New York Times
Sci-News

Photo by Andrew Silver [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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