A proposed community of 135 homes raised questions about the risk of asbestos that occurred naturally in the surrounding environment around El Dorado Hills, California. Scientists were on hand to answer questions posed by a reporter from the Sacramento Bee.
The scientists addressed issues about what people should and should not be worried about when living in an area with natural asbestos in the rock. They noted that as long as the asbestos remained intact and did not become airborne, it was safe, but in the process of disturbing the soil, which might occur with earth moving, road building, or drilling activities, the asbestos in the soil can become airborne. Once in the air, asbestos particles or fibers can be inhaled into the lungs, where they lie dormant for decades until lung cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma develops.
The problem with the proposed housing community near El Dorado Hills is that the area is constantly under building and road construction that churn up the asbestos in the soil. These put residents at a higher risk for asbestos inhalation than experienced in other parts of the United States. Health experts were uncertain as to whether anyone living or working in or around the construction area became ill from breathing in asbestos particles. Some of that lack of knowledge stemmed from the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases. Scientists know that just being exposed to asbestos over the course of several weeks can lead to cancer 20 to 30 years later, but they do not know how many from El Dorado Hills were affected in that manner.
The county had a plan to help to control the levels of airborne asbestos in the El Dorado Hills area. They would have a program that would continually dampen the soil. Dry soil is much more likely to become airborne after it is disturbed; by keeping the soil wet, it will be less likely to fly up into the air during construction projects. The scientists, however, were not sure if this tactic would prove effective against the chrysotile asbestos in the soil surrounding El Dorado Hills. The bottom line given was for those considering living in the El Dorado Hills area to carefully look at the potential health dangers they faced.