Asbestos is a Naturally Occurring Mineral. The State Rock of CA is an Asbestos Rock! We are not joking.
California is one of three states that has a significant amount of naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) throughout the state. The other areas with an abundance of NOAs are Fairfax, Virginia and the states of Washington and Alaska. Asbestos in its natural geological state as a serpentine, or layered, mineral is not dangerous to human health and well being. It is when the materials that contain asbestos are disturbed and become airborne that exposure can cause health impacts many years after the initial exposure.
Unfortunately, because there is so much asbestos near or on California ground surfaces, the risk for developing cancer from long-term exposure to airborne asbestos is higher than states that do not have a high amount of naturally occurring asbestos. The risk is 200,000 chances in a million, or approximately one in five people in California will develop cancer or another asbestos-related illness.
While some of the NOA may be released into the air by uncontrollable means such as a strong wind, most NOA is disturbed by human activity. Something as simple as driving too fast on an unpaved road could crumble the soil and cause the asbestos fibers to become airborne. Therefore it is important to minimize human disruption as much as possible by leaving the NOA undisturbed where it occurs, which is preferred. The NOA may also be covered or excavated and properly disposed of, and any activities that generate dust should be limited in the area.
In addition to the control measures previously mentioned, there are also four other methods to reduce public exposure to airborne asbestos:
Government Controls: These controls are regulated by local construction permit requirements and zoning stipulations. Per the Airborne Toxic Control Measures (ATCM) of the California Air Resources Board (ARB), if an NOA is discovered on a construction site or other site where the NOA will be disturbed, the site owner and equipment operators are required to alert the local air quality management district within one day of the discovery of the NOA.
- Proprietary Controls: These controls assign restrictions for property use based on the laws of private property.
- Enforcement Tools: These controls are contained within documents that are legally binding and require specific actions be prohibited or completed in a precise manner.
- Informational Devices: These controls educate the public and raise awareness that there is asbestos in the area through public announcements, signage, and training of workers.
Educational facilities also have specific guidelines to lessen the impact of airborne asbestos. Some recommendations include weekly vacuuming with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system, and using a wet dusting method instead of feather dusting.
With all the regulations and precautions that California residents and workers face, it seems as if it is an impossible task to reduce the degree of asbestos exposure. By using a knowledgeable firm like Essel Environmental Consulting and their Certified Asbestos Consultants to perform asbestos surveys and other hazardous materials services, the task becomes much more manageable.
- California Environmental Protection Agency, Air Resources Board
- Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), Special School Information Advisory
- US Environmental Protection Agency