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Is Airborne Asbestos a Threat to Southern Nevada?

Given the asbestos industry's decades of lies and misrepresentation, virtually any statements made regarding the level of threat posed by asbestos in buildings, homes or the environment deserve close examination.

Across the border from California, an interesting controversy has erupted concerning the risk posed by naturally occurring asbestos in southern Nevada. Asbestos is a natural mineral, and in some areas, erosion caused by wind and water expose the mineral to the surface, and potentially, to anyone in the vicinity.

A pair of scientists noted the presence of this asbestos in the Las Vegas area, and began to investigate cancer rates, including mesothelioma. They found a higher than normal incidence of the deadly disease, including young people and women, who typically are not afflicted by mesothelioma.

However, instead of wanting more information, the state health department threatened legal action against the scientists if they published their findings in any scientific journal. The state claims that the pair were, "scaring the hell out of people."

Which people were "scared" may be the real question. Was it residents in the most populous county in the state or was it developers and others who promote Las Vegas for tourism? In most scientific studies, if other serious scientists question the findings of a study, the usual response is more study to clarify the results.

Nevada's response bears an uncomfortable association with the asbestos industry's decade's long war on the truth, rivaling the cigarette companies, with their denials, stalling litigation and refusal to take responsibility for the harm they have caused.

The researchers turned to federal cancer data and have now published their study. It found elevated rates of mesothelioma among women and even cases involving teenagers. This is far from the typical profile of the elderly man who worked in heavy industry and developed the disease after being exposed decades earlier.

While the asbestos deposits may have been in Nevada for thousands of years, the massive development in the last 50 years in the Las Vegas area has likely disturbed many times the amount of material that was exposed for during the preceding centuries.

Should the risk be evaluated and should the residents in the area be informed? Apparently, Nevada does not think so.

The New York Times, "In Nevada, a Controversy in the Wind," Deborah Blum February 9, 2015

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