Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Study: Naturally Occurring Asbestos Poses a Risk

February 18, 2015

Las Vegas, NV Because the risk of developing asbestosis and mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos is so high, there are rules to protect employees who regularly work around asbestos. But people who do not work around asbestos might also be at risk of asbestos cancer, asbestosis and other serious health problems, without even knowing about it. Usually, this secondary asbestos exposure is due to a loved one working with asbestos - and may result in an asbestos lawsuit being filed. But a new study suggests that naturally occurring asbestos might also pose a problem.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Hawaii, and published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology (2/7/15). Researchers were concerned by an increase in the number of women and young people who developed cancer that was more commonly found in men who worked with or around asbestos.

The reason for the concern is that asbestos-related diseases typically take decades to appear after exposure. So a man who works with asbestos in his 30s might not develop asbestosis or mesothelioma until his 50s or 60s. For people to develop mesothelioma in their 20s or younger without having worked with it suggests naturally occurring asbestos fibers might be posing health risks, and exposure may be occurring at a very young age.

“In a setting of occupational exposure to asbestos, MM [malignant mesothelioma] occurs 4-8 times more frequently in men than in women, at the median age of 74 years, while an environmental exposure to asbestos causes the same number of MMs in men and women, at younger ages,” researchers wrote in the background to the study.

Researchers examined the rate of mesothelioma in southern Nevada and found that unexpectedly high proportions of women and people under age 55 were dying from mesothelioma. They also examined different mineral fibers that occur naturally in Nevada. When comparing southern Nevada rates of malignant mesothelioma with other areas in Nevada and the rest of the US, researchers found that southern Nevada had higher rates of malignant mesothelioma in women and in young individuals.

This suggests that “environmental exposure to mineral fibers in southern Nevada may be contributing to some of these mesotheliomas.” The study’s authors recommend that further research on environmental exposure to asbestos be done, to allow for strategies to minimize exposure in areas where naturally occurring asbestos is found.

Areas such as Nevada especially, where construction, dust storms and a dry climate may all combine to increase the risk of asbestos being inhaled, may be more susceptible to asbestos-related health problems.