S pending time in nature – especially relaxing in the gorgeous, scenic mountains – is usually a peaceful, restorative activity.
With some many stunning state parks to explore in the Appalachians, Rocky Mountains and Cumberland Mountains (to name a few), most visitors spend their time hiking, swimming, exploring and enjoying their time in the outdoors – not worrying about asbestos.
Unfortunately, the asbestos threat is one that more people need to be conscientious of.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that appears in many mountain ranges and mineral deposits across the world. The fibers, which can be categorized in six different classifications, are not harmful when left alone in the ground, but if they are released into the air and inhaled, it can cause a number of diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
How is Asbestos Disturbed?
For many years, asbestos was commercially mined for use in various industrial projects. Although it is no longer mined in the United States, mining of other minerals in deposits where asbestos contaminates the soil may also release the fibers into the air.
Large asbestos mining operations can scatter the fibers across the town where the deposit was located, environmentally exposing not only miners but general residents to the carcinogen.
Additionally, asbestos may be accidentally disturbed by park-goers who inadvertently disturb asbestos-contaminated soil. Many areas where asbestos has been discovered (such as the Clear Creek Management Area in California) are marked off in highly contaminated areas, but the fibers still exist in many other areas where they can cause environmental exposure.
To avoid coming into contact with environmental asbestos, you can take the following steps:
- Learn which areas are most heavily contaminated with asbestos (California, Georgia and Virginia are all heavily laced with the fibers, as are many mountainous regions within the country).
- Avoid hiking, four-wheeling, biking, rock climbing or otherwise being in areas where asbestos may potentially be in the soil. Stay on paved roads when possible.
- Learn how to visually identify clusters of the long, thin white fibers.
- Avoid handling soil or rocks where asbestos may be present.
- Report any incidences of asbestos in public grounds to local or state environmental safety departments. (Each state has regulations and procedures regarding the management of asbestos).