Environmental Asbestos Exposure
There are many human activities which can result in naturally occurring asbestos becoming airborne, such as bicycle riding or gardening. Similarly, natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes can also disturb asbestos deposits. This type of asbestos exposure usually entails a low health risk.
Nevertheless, environmental exposure also refers to instances when people breathe in asbestos fibers released by nearby human activities such as demolition, mining or construction operations. In this case, asbestos exposure is significantly more dangerous, as the amount of carcinogenic fibers involved is higher and the duration of exposure is greater as well. Perhaps the most eloquent example in this respect is the tragic fate of a tremendous number of Libby residents who had been subjected to asbestos exposure from a vermiculite mine for over five decades. So far, approximately 400 Libby residents died of asbestos-related diseases, while over 3,000 are currently struggling with the devastating health effects of exposure.
How Does Environmental Asbestos Exposure Occur?
While accidentally disturbing asbestos deposits rarely generates a health hazard per se, as it is generally a one-time occurrence involving brief exposure to low concentrations of airborne fibers, ongoing exposure to environmental sources of asbestos may have dire health consequences. People who reside in close proximity to industrial facilities which use asbestos are at highest risk in this respect, since they spend the better part of their lives nearby major sources of contamination, which makes exposure inevitable. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer to afflict numerous community members in such circumstances, as breathing in asbestos from environmental sources can be just as dangerous as occupational exposure.
In the case of environmental asbestos exposure, it is often duration which creates the menace and not so much the level of toxic fibers polluting the air. Accordingly, inhaling small doses of asbestos on a regular basis will eventually lead to the accumulation of a significant amount of carcinogenic fibers in the lungs, which might result in a life-threatening disease over time.
Some of the industrial facilities which might still employ asbestos today are oil refineries, power generating stations, chemical plants, shipyards, chlor-alkali plants, automobile factories, and construction products manufacturing plants. However, it is important to bear in mind that nowadays, asbestos use is very infrequent in the United States by virtue of strict federal regulations and most companies which still include it in their business comply with the law. Therefore, environmental asbestos exposure is unlikely to affect U.S. residents in this day and age. Communities living nearby such industrial facilities in countries which exploit asbestos on a massive scale (like Russia, Canada, Brazil, India, and China), on the other hand, are very susceptible to developing serious diseases.
The activities carried out by asbestos-employing industrial facilities which can lead to environmental contamination include
- processing raw asbestos
- loading and unloading raw asbestos or asbestos-containing products
- ventilation, which releases tremendous concentrations of asbestos fibers in the air
- disposal of asbestos waste nearby residential areas
- local use of asbestos waste products from industrial facilities, such as mine tailings
As for naturally occurring asbestos, people in the U.S. states below are likely to encounter it on at least one occasion during their lifetime, since it is highly prevalent throughout these regions of the country:
- North Carolina
Nevertheless, asbestos exposure implies a relatively low health risk in these circumstances.