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U.S. EPA presents data on naturally occurring asbestos assessment in El Dorado Hills

Release Date: 5/6/2005
Contact Information: Contact: Mark Merchant, 415-760-4319 (cell)

SACRAMENTO -- During a public meeting today in El Dorado Hill, Calif., scientists and representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pacific Southwest regional office made a formal presentation of data collected during asbestos sampling in the community in October 2004.

What the EPA found in El Dorado Hills were asbestos fibers in almost all of the samples taken. The samples -- more than 450 from the air and soil -- were collected as part of an overall assessment of asbestos levels and personal exposures to the mineral in public areas of El Dorado Hills, an area known to contain naturally occurring asbestos in the soil. The request for an assessment was made in September 2003 by a community member under federal Superfund law after asbestos was found in the soil at the high school.

"We conducted this study to gather data on the potential for asbestos exposure when activity creates dust," explained Dan Meer, chief of the Response, Planning and Assessment Branch in the EPA's Pacific Southwest Regional office. "Our hope is that the data will help to inform the decision making of agencies and groups to determine what actions should be taken."

The EPA's assessment focused on asbestos exposure in children because their activities often create higher personal exposures to dust that may contain asbestos in areas where it is naturally occurring. The exposure of children to asbestos is of particular concern because their longer life expectancy exceeds the latency period for asbestos-related disease.

The EPA's sampling simulated sports and recreational activities of both children and adults. The sampling occurred at the Community Park's playground and fields, the New York Creek Nature Trail's bicycling and jogging path and in the Jackson Elementary School garden.

Previous EPA studies across the country indicated that the best way to measure exposures to asbestos in the air was to perform personal monitoring during dust generating activities. This technique is called "activity-based personal air monitoring." During the assessment, EPA contractors wore air samplers to collect dust from the breathing heights of children and adults.

Asbestos fibers found in the El Dorado Hills included samples collected for comparison outside the area of activity. The dominant asbestos fiber type detected was amphibole. In general, personal asbestos exposures from simulated sports and play activities were significantly elevated over levels observed in the nearby asbestos air samples taken outside the area of activity.

Meer explained the EPA is concerned about long term health effects from asbestos exposure. The long term health effects related to intermittent, high level, environmental exposure to amphibole asbestos cannot be quantified, particularly when that exposure occurs at an early age. However, he added scientists do know that the risk of contracting an asbestos related disease increases when there are higher levels of asbestos fibers in the air, when there is a higher frequency of exposure, when there is a longer duration of exposure, and with the elapsed time after exposure.

"Given what these samples show, reasonable and appropriate steps should be taken to reduce asbestos exposure," said Meer. "The entire community county government, schools, community service providers, the business leaders and the public needs to get involved in solving this problem."

The EPA plans several next steps now that the data has been presented:

  • Convene a national experts' panel: In the light of the risk uncertainties, and to help us understand the significance of these elevated exposures, the EPA is putting together an independent panel of experts in the field of human health as it relates to asbestos to further evaluate EPA data.
  • Activity-based asbestos sampling in other areas: The EPA will be conducting limited activity-based asbestos sampling, similar to what was done in El Dorado Hills, in another naturally occurring asbestos area in California, outside of El Dorado County. This sampling, and off-road vehicle activity asbestos sampling the EPA is conducting at the Clear Creek Management Area in San Benito County, will be used to expand the knowledge base on the significance of naturally occurring asbestos exposures in California.
  • Coordination with state and county agencies: The EPA will continue to coordinate with state and county agencies to address naturally occurring asbestos exposures through regulatory and voluntary actions.
  • Communication with the community: The EPA will continue to meet with the informal Community Advisory Committee and other stakeholders and community members to explain our data and steps that are being taken to control asbestos exposure. At the same meeting, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry -- a division of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta -- presented findings from its Health Consultation on asbestos exposures at Oak Ridge High School, which was also requested after soil containing asbestos was found at the school.

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