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Is that asbestos fiber on your clothes?

Asbestos is a well-known hazard. It has been banned by the U.S. EPA for most industrial uses in the U.S. since 1989. Nevertheless, it is present throughout the human environment, in buildings, on roofs, in insulation, gaskets and a myriad of other uses. And until recently, those uses were seen as posing the greatest risk of exposure that could lead to asbestos-related illnesses, such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.

However, in the early 1990s, the growing understanding of the scope of the asbestos contamination of the town of Libby, Montana, raised an additional concern, that of naturally occurring asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is a natural mineral fiber. It has been mined for thousands of years, but it was only in the early part of last century that links between the mineral and occupational diseases were recognized.

Mining and industrial milling and use of asbestos laden dust exposed thousands of workers to the deadly potential of mesothelioma, caused when the microscopic fibers of asbestos lodge deep in the lungs of a victim, and after decades of irritation, trigger cancers like mesothelioma.

Last year, a researcher discovered a region in southern Nevada, where asbestos fibers could be picked up by riding a horse. She found 53,000 acres with asbestos-bearing mineral deposits. The greatest concern is that we do not know what we do not know.

And this may be the tip of the iceberg. Areas across the county have these types of mineral deposits, and stretch from the east coast to numerous parts of California. They note that suburban developments near Sacramento have been built on asbestos deposits.

We need to know if these deposits present a genuine health threat to those who live there, and we need to find out what can be done to minimize the risk, if it is real.

Source: New York Times, "Landscapes Tainted by Asbestos," Deborah Blum, January 17, 2014

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