By Michelle Llamas
Asbestos found in the environment in its natural form is called naturally occurring asbestos (NOA). In the United Kingdom, there is little chance that you will encounter NOA. Most of the asbestos found in the UK was imported from other asbestos-producing countries through products like building materials and insulation.
In other parts of the world asbestos can be found in soil and rocks in the environment.
Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA)
In the natural environment, asbestos can be found in ultramafic rock, including serpentine rock and near fault zones. High levels of human activity and the natural weathering from elements can wear down these rocks and cause them to break, making it easier for asbestos fibers to release in the air.
In the United States, California is known to have large deposits of NOA. The Sierra foothills and other mountain ranges contain ultramafic rock. State parks and natural areas are popular for off-roading, hiking and camping and can contain the hidden dangers of asbestos. Many people visit these natural parks and may disturb the soil and rocks, creating a potential hazard. Always be sure to check with local authorities if you are concerned about asbestos in state parks.
Countries like Canada, China and Russia mine large quantities of asbestos. The natural environment surrounding mines can be contaminated with asbestos fibers.
Asbestos can become an environmental hazard when damaged products containing asbestos are illegally dumped or handled. This process is usually called fly-tipping. The proper authorities should always be notified of possible fly-tipped asbestos.
What Makes Asbestos Dangerous?
If asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can lodge in the lungs, abdomen and the lining of internal organs. Over time, these fibers can cause tissue and DNA damage. This can lead to scarring of the lungs (asbestosis), lung cancer and mesothelioma.
One of the most aggressive asbestos-related cancers is mesothelioma, a cancer that attacks the lining of internal organs. Most mesotheliomas occur in the lining of the lungs, but can occur in the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) and the heart (pericardium).
Symptoms of this disease can take 15 to 50 years from initial exposure to surface. People with mesothelioma often suffer from difficulty breathing, night sweats, cough, chest pain and unexplained weight loss.
Asbestosis is a non-cancerous disease that involves the scarring of the lungs by asbestos fibers. The scarred lung tissue cannot expand like healthy lung tissue, and patients often have difficulty breathing and develop chest pain and a rattling cough.
Being aware of asbestos in the environment will allow you to minimize exposure to this potentially toxic mineral.
Bio: Michelle Llamas is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She is committed to generating awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and providing information regarding breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatment.