After asbestos was identified as responsible for malignant mesothelioma and other serious diseases, the Environmental Protection Agency went to great effort to prevent additional exposures. Asbestos-contaminated mines, factories, and industrial complexes became Superfund sites from which asbestos was removed or soil capped to prevent the fibers from becoming airborne. Now researchers say that those well-intended efforts may have inadvertently made a bad situation worse.
Stanford Researcher Raises Concerns About Future Mesothelioma Risk
According to Jane Willenbring, associate professor of geological sciences at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), the remediation efforts that the EPA took were meant to prevent mesothelioma by containing asbestos fibers and preventing them from exposure to the air. But her research shows that the fibers may infiltrate the soil and seep into ground water sources, where they create entirely new problems.
Writing in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters, Willenbring said, “People have this idea that asbestos is all covered up and taken care of,” said. “But this is still a lingering legacy pollutant and might be dribbling out pollution, little by little.” Her research showed that organic material added to the soil may facilitate the movement of asbestos, potentially leading to mesothelioma diagnoses from an entirely new source – inhaling the fibers from the water that we shower with, irrigation of foods and landscapes, and humidifiers.
Electrical Charge in Asbestos Changed by Soil
In her research, Willenbring found that organic material added to the soil changes the electrical charge on asbestos particles. This makes them less sticky and facilitates their movement through the soil and into ground water. Scientists had originally thought asbestos fibers’ shape would prevent this type of movement.
The risk of mesothelioma from this type of movement is significant, as millions of U.S. residents live near former asbestos sites where the material is now underground. Much of the research her team conducted was at the BoRit Superfund Site in Ambler, Pennsylvania, a site blamed for numerous asbestos-related illnesses, and which now borders a stream that provides much of Philadelphia’s water supply. The team is now evaluating what changes that can be made to avoid the interaction between added organic material and asbestos in the soil.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, we can help. Contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net today at 1-800-692-8608.