The Journal of Hazardous Materials Letters published findings earlier this year that has disproven the long-held belief that if asbestos is buried, it no longer poses a threat to human health.
Scientists have found that the common soil composition actually increases the mobility of asbestos particles, allowing it to spread into nearby groundwater.
The researchers referenced sixteen sites designated by the United States Environmental Protection Authority as environmental emergencies.
“People should be aware of what’s out there,” Sanjay Mohanty, who was the lead author, from UCLA.
“We typically assume, once it’s embedded in the soil, there is no risk. But we’ve shown here, in some instances, that’s not the case.”
The initial goal of the study was to establish the effectiveness of the EPA’s current method of covering the asbestos with soil, which included organic matter.
Researchers found that the dissolved organic matter increased the likelihood of further exposure to asbestos and associated health risks.
“Now we can show that exactly the thing that they [EPA] do, which is add manure or other organic sludge to the asbestos piles that creates production of dissolved organic matter, is exactly what causes the liberation of asbestos,” one of the researchers explained, in a news release from Stanford University.
“It’s actually facilitating the transport of asbestos fibers.”
Utilising extensive laboratory testing, researchers concluded that organic matter changes the texture and charge of the fibres, allowing them to move more easily through soil.
“People have this idea that asbestos is all covered up and taken care of,” Jane Willenbring, associate professor of geological sciences at Stanford University, explained.
“But this is still a lingering legacy pollutant and might be dribbling out pollution, little by little.”