We have all heard about the presence of asbestos in old buildings, military bases, industrial facilities and processing plants. These are the locations where you have seen remediation companies removing the old asbestos and disposing of it at waste facilities. However, did you know that asbestos occurs naturally in the environment, and deposits of asbestos are present throughout the western part of North Carolina? Don’t worry, you’re safe, but we thought it would be interesting to provide some additional information on naturally occurring asbestos in the state of North Carolina for this month’s newsletter.
How does asbestos occur naturally in the environment?
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, “naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) is the name for a group of fibrous minerals that occur naturally in soil and ultramafic rock formations.” Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals with similar crystalline structure. Deposits of asbestos can be found throughout the country, and asbestos mines have operated throughout the history of the country to generate materials used for things such as electrical and building insulation. It was not until late in the 20th century that the harmful carcinogenic effects of inhaling asbestos dust/fibers resulted in the gradual demise of its commercial use. But deposits of asbestos remain naturally, in North Carolina and other states.
Where is the Asbestos in North Carolina?
The United States Geological Survey has identified specific locations across the country that contain naturally occurring asbestos. In North Carolina, these areas are focused in the western portion of the state around the Appalachian Mountain Range. According to Asbestos.com, a total of 8 counties in the state contain NOA. The NC Department of Health also provides a county-by-county report of areas containing NOA as well as other information. Most of these areas are classified as a mine (none are currently operational), a potential mine, or an exposed rock formation. Jackson County contains the highest number of NOA sites, with at least 21 different mines, prospects, or deposits containing NOA. The NC Division of Waste Management, in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), compiled a report in 2006 that provides additional details on these NC NOA sites. A brief listing of the sites within the 8 counties mentioned earlier is presented below:
Is Naturally Occurring Asbestos Harmful?
Not to worry! Asbestos in its natural form in the environment is not harmful as long as it is left undisturbed and the fibers are not released into the air. For this reason, it is important for projects that may involve land clearing, grading, drilling, hammering, or other invasive techniques to be aware of the potential for naturally occurring asbestos at their sites. Limiting dust-generating activities and watering the site can also help prevent dispersion and exposure to NOA. Thin soil caps can also prevent the material from mobilizing. The EPA has compiled a document that provides insights into steps that can be taken when dealing with naturally occurring asbestos.
Pyramid employs licensed asbestos inspectors that are qualified to examine industrial and commercial sites thought to contain the material. We can provide additional insights to your questions about both commercial and naturally occurring asbestos.