Abstract

Naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) is a global public health issue because minerals that may be classified as asbestos are a common constituent of certain types of rock and soil, found in many regions on every continent. Disturbance of these rocks and soils, especially through construction activities, can result in airborne particles, leading to inhalation and risk of disease from these known human carcinogens. The presence of NOA in the environment affects all the human activities aimed at its modification, and all engineering/geological actions in the natural environment should take it into account. In the presence of NOA, specific procedures for sampling, evaluation of environmental risk, and monitoring should be applied to minimize the risk of exposure for the workers and the general public. Unfortunately, detailed procedures have been lacking to date, and consensus is difficult to achieve because basic issues, such as the definition of asbestos itself, are still open and being debated by scientists and regulators. While the term “asbestos” has been used in older geological publications, it is not currently defined by geologists. For the past century, “asbestos” was a commercial term used to describe minerals mined for specific purposes, and the term then entered the legal lexicon for purposes of control and compensation. All these basic matters are critically illustrated in the article. Finding clear and universally accepted definitions is mandatory; otherwise, there will continue to be controversial positions that can cause regulatory and legal issues and the outcome of lawsuits to be very subjective.

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