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Questions cloud asbestos issue

The headline atop last week’s news story seems to say it all: “Questions linger.”

The “discovery” of naturally occurring asbestos in the area has people concerned. And rightly so.

But just how concerned do they need to be and what type of threat this poses to their health is still unknown.

There are just too many questions that need to be asked and answered.

Even Brenda Buck and Rodney Metcalf, the two scientists who made the discovery, say more research is needed, as did David Berry of the Environmental Protection Agency during a recent meeting with local citizens.

They said there is no specific data to determine how much asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma. And of those who died from the disease in Clark County, there is no no certainty about where — or if — they were exposed to the asbestos fibers.

According to WebMd, asbestos is the main cause of mesothelioma but not the only one. Radiation, a virus and genetics also could cause the rare form of cancer.

There is no doubt that exposure to asbestos is unhealthy. Studies have shown a link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma as well as other cancers.

Most of these studies, however, have involved occupational exposures to the toxic substance. And usually in large quantities.

How naturally occurring asbestos affects individuals remains to be seen. Unfortunately, it also takes decades for its effects to show up.

As more and more pieces of heavy equipment crop up on the hillsides surrounding Boulder City for the start of construction of Interstate 11, more questions arise.

Certainly lots of dust will be stirred up by the construction of the interstate. Despite the Nevada Department of Transportation and Regional Transportation Commission’s best efforts to keep the dust down, some is bound to escape.

According to officials from the transportation department, no one will be allowed on the site without taking a three-hour asbestos training class.

They also will wash the undercarriage of every vehicle that enters and exits the construction site to prevent dirt and dust from the area to escape.

Air quality around the project will be monitored daily, as will the workers.

Yet what does this mean for the nearby residents? I had a concerned citizen stop by the office last week ask me this question. Why are there no air quality monitors a few miles away from the construction zones? Do officials seriously expect all the dust to remain in that area? What about the wind?

As with any issue, there are multiple sides and various approaches.

Consider that people have lived in Boulder City since the early 1930s. Many of those who worked on Hoover Dam or lived in the area at the time would have been exposed to dust from the surrounding hillsides where the naturally occurring asbestos has been discovered. Many of those same workers lived long, happy lives. In fact, the last known Hoover Dam worker died in November at the age of 98 without showing any adverse effects from exposure to Southern Nevada’s dirt.

And overall, the state’s ranking of deaths attributed to mesothelioma are low. The Environmental Working Group Action Fund ranks Nevada 44th in the nation.

City, county and state agencies have run hundreds of tests to determine the severity of the asbestos in the area and found that it was discovered only in minimal concentrations.

Even better news is that according to a recent study by the University of California, Davis, the odds of getting mesothelioma fall 6.3 percent for every 10 kilometers away from the source.

What should be done? That is the question, and for now, there are still no good answers.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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