Naturally Occurring Asbestos Found in Nevada

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It’s been roughly 13 million years since asbestos fibers formed in the roots of volcanoes (also known as “plutons”). For roughly 12 million years, the fibers have been breaking free and spreading out. Now, a team of geologists from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) say the small town of Boulder City, NV (pop. 15,168) is situated on top of one of these asbestos- packed plutons.

The main type of asbestos emitting into the ground and air from the pluton is called actinolite–one of the six types of asbestos deemed toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Actinolite asbestos, along with amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, and tremolite are collectively called “amphibole asbestos.”

Amphibole asbestos is characterized by needlelike fibers. These fibers cannot be seen, smelled, felt, or absorbed through the skin. The fibers can make their way into the lungs and other parts of the body by simply breathing them in or swallowing them. This can lead to a number of debilitating asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, or cancer of the larynx or ovaries. It is now believed that asbestos exposure can also lead to weakened immune function and other disorders.

Back in Boulder City (which is located just 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas and a few miles from majestic Hoover Dam), researchers performed a number of tests to assess the danger levels of the newly discovered asbestos. During one test, UNLV geology professor Brenda Buck (whose expertise includes dust and its effects on human health, and soil science of arid environments – modern & ancient) traveled along a dirt road in Boulder City, her horse in tow. At the end of the 3-hour trek, she discovered ample amounts of asbestos fibers on her shoes and pants.

Other tests showed that although the asbestos was not found everywhere, researchers had a very easy time locating samples. Buck, along with the other team members, concluded that although more tests need to be done, “We can’t in good conscience say there’s no problem.”

According to the EPA, “there is no safe level of exposure known; therefore, exposure to friable asbestos should be avoided.”

The UNLV research team agreed, and so did the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has awarded the team a three-year grant for the study. As such, further testing is now underway to help determine just how carcinogenic the fibers found in Nevada might be. The testing, which will be conducted by researchers at the University of Hawaii, will include a health assessment to help uncover any possible mesothelioma cases in the study area. In addition, the UNLV team has expanded the study area to Clark County–which has a population of over 2 million.

According to a report by the Las Vegas Review Journal, most of the study area will be “contained within the roughly 1,200 square miles of desert between U.S. Highway 95 and the Colorado River from Boulder City to the southern tip of the state.” As such, the Nevada Department of Transportation is also conducting its own analysis and testing, with plans by the state transportation board to invest up to $400,000 in the study.

Protecting Yourself from Asbestos Exposure

If you live in an area with naturally occurring asbestos, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers the following safety tips to protect yourself from asbestos exposure:

  • Avoid riding dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles in areas where asbestos is known to occur.
  • Drive slowly over unpaved roads.
  • Keep windows and doors closed on windy days and during nearby construction activity.
  • Pave over asbestos-laden rock or soil or cover it with asbestos-free soil or landscape covering.
  • Use a wet rag to dust and a wet mop to clean non-carpeted floors. Vacuum carpets often using a vacuum with a high-efficiency HEPA filter. Use washable area rugs and wash them regularly.
  • Use doormats. Remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in dirt. Try to keep pets from carrying dust and dirt in on their fur or feet.
  • Wet down garden areas before digging and shoveling.

For more information about the dangers of asbestos, please visit the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR).

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the attorneys at Goldenberg Heller & Antognoli, P.C. can help. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation at 800-782-8492 (toll-free) or email us. We look forward to discussing your case.


  • 100 Questions & Answers About Mesothelioma, Second Edition
    Harvey I. Pass, MD, NYU School of Medicine and Clinical Cancer Center
  • Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR)
  • American Cancer Society (ACS)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • City of Boulder City
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • KLAS-TV Las Vegas
  • Las Vegas Review Journal National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) – Department of Geoscience
  • U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Land Management
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