Geological Survey Employee Attempts to Reassure Arizonans

It’s good to remember that asbestos is, after all, a naturally-occurring mineral–a form of rock, if you will–and that asbestos in nature can be just as toxic as that used in over 3,000 everyday products in the U.S.
Mining operations in the vicinity of the Agua Fria River in Maricopa County, Arizona, has had some people concerned. Some have said that sand and gravel mining operations are kicking up tons of asbestos dust, and that other operations in which used concrete is crushed and recycled may also be contributing to the problem.

The Agua Fria River Basin is located only twenty miles or so north of the Phoenix-Scottsdale metro area, possibly one of the nation’s fastest-growing metro regions.

Asbestos fibers were commonly used in many types of concrete prior to the 1980s.

Mimi Diaz, who works for the Arizona State Geological Survey, attempted to reassure people at a recent meeting of the Maricopa County Mining District Recommendation Committee. Diaz pointed out that asbestos is actually six different kinds of minerals, and then claimed that “not all are bad and cause lung cancer.”

“People who have gotten sick off asbestos had an occupational exposure to it,” she said. “They are the ones who are sick, not the ones who drive by it or live by it,” adding that one would need to ingest “billions” of fibers in order to be affected, and that even for those who are exposed, “it takes 20 years for it to take effect.”

Diaz is at best uninformed. The facts are that all asbestos is harmful, and that there is no safe level of exposure. While it is true that not all who are exposed to asbestos will develop cancer and that some forms (amphiboles) of asbestos are more deadly than others, research has shown that all asbestos has carcinogenic potential.

Diaz went on to reassure local residents that the concrete from Agua Fria was “asbestos-free” as well. Concrete is rarely transported more than twenty miles from where it is manufactured because of transportation costs; ergo, if there was no asbestos found in the air nearby, the concrete from the area must be “clean.”

Another board member, who worked for a nearby company that specializes in the recycling of old building materials, added that every truckload of materials was thoroughly inspected for toxic substances.