Foothill Residents Worry About Unknown Danger From Asbestos
It's long been recognized that exposure to high levels of asbestos can lead to cancer and other lung diseases. What's not known is how the human body reacts to low levels of asbestos over long periods of time. That uncertainly is leading to anxiety in the booming foothills of northern California.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun a new round of testing at several public sites, including schools and a community park in El Dorado Hills. EPA workers are kicking up dust to simulate the activities of children and sampling for asbestos at about the height where children would be breathing. "It's of concern when [asbestos] gets into the air in the breathing zone, and that's when we worry," says EPA Site Assessment Manager Jere Johnson.
The new tests follow a nearly $3 million cleanup at Oak Ridge High School completed during summer vacation. Naturally-occurring asbestos found in soil samples on the high school campus led to the cleanup.
A woman who owns a home about a mile from where the current testing is taking place is concerned that her neighborhood could contain asbestos as well. Laurie Lindley-Muender's home is directly behind a large housing development known as the Promontory. A new phase of blasting and excavation began earlier this year, and Lindley-Muender worries about the construction dust that has been drifting into her home.
As a matter of policy, the EPA does not test for asbestos on private property. Lindley-Muender asked News10 to help her determine whether there's any asbestos in the soil in her backyard or the dust in her vacuum cleaner. News 10 sent soil and dust samples to an accredited lab in southern California, which found asbestos in both. The soil sample contained more than 1.5 percent tremolite, an especially dangerous form of asbestos. The EPA considers anything above one percent to be hazardous. "It's absolutely appalling," Lindley-Muender told News10. "I don't know what to do next."
In late July the developer doing the excavation directly behind Lindley-Muender's home sent a letter to the neighborhood apologizing for the noise and the dust. Christopherson Homes offered to wash everyone's windows when the work is complete, probably sometime in November. What the letter did not mention is that a geologist hired by Christopherson discovered asbestos during grading work several weeks earlier. El Dorado County's air pollution control officer says the company was immediately ordered to take extra steps to minimize dust, including watering the project site and washing vehicles before they drive away from the property. Air monitoring began July 12.
In the three-month period that followed the asbestos discovery, air monitors placed around the site reported elevated levels of asbestos dozens of times. However, according to Air Pollution Control Officer Marcella McTaggart the levels were not high enough to be of serious concern. McTaggart pointed out there is no accepted safety standard for airborne asbestos. Lacking a standard, El Dorado County uses one established by the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 (AHERA) for asbestos in school classrooms. In only a few instances, McTaggart told News 10, did the asbestos levels from the Promontory project exceed AHERA standards, and even then only slightly. McTaggart expresses frustration over the lack of a clear standard. "We do not have any ruler to compare these numbers to," she says.
Homeowner Laurie Lindley-Muender is equally frustrated. "I think everybody just wants to remain ignorant because it's too stressful to find out what it will really do to us."
It's impossible to know how much of the asbestos-laden dust that collects in Lindley-Muender's home is from the construction site and how much has been tracked in from her own yard. Although new construction led to her fear of asbestos, she now realizes asbestos has been under her home all along -- the home where her two children, now teenagers, grew up.
In part two of News10's special report on asbestos, reporter George Warren will examine why asbestos discoveries are still coming as a surprise despite an elaborate mapping project. He'll also look at what homeowners can do if they suspect they might have asbestos on their property.
El Dorado County Asbestos Information
From the El Dorado County asbestos website
Naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) is prevalent in at least 44 of California's 58 counties. Serpentine, the California State rock, may contain naturally-occurring asbestos (NOA). Asbestos is the name for a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals. When serpentine rock is broken or crushed, asbestos may be released from the rock and may become airborne potentially causing a health hazard. Asbestos can be found in outside ambient air and has historically been higher in urban areas. Ambient air "background" and transport into and out of El Dorado County resulting from the Earth's shedding, attrition from wear and tear of asbestos containing consumer goods, mining activities and general disturbance in other areas of California and possibly globally is not understood or defined.
When I bought my house up here in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in El Dorado county, I had to sign a paper acknowledging that there was asbestos in the rock that occurred naturally here, and that it could be a health hazard. That form is a county requirement. So WTF are these people now acting so surprised and upset. Who are they going to sue? Mother Nature?
I think California has the highest concentration of MORONS in the universe.
Never been to Columbus on game day have you??
Fixed it for ya...