Plans for Highway Detour in Nevada Stalled by Natural Asbestos Discovery

Eight months ago, geoscientists Brenda Buck and Rodney Metcalf, along with their UNLV colleagues, published a paper that has led to significant consequences for the state of Nevada – specifically, for Boulder City. The publication details the duo’s discovery of microscopic, naturally occurring asbestos in the Eldorado Valley, just south of Henderson, Nevada, in November of 2011. As a result, plans for a much-needed $490 million highway detour, slated to begin this past spring, have been put on hold.

“As soon as we found this out,” said Buck of the asbestos discovery, “we worked as fast as we could and as hard as we could to get the data published, so that we could inform the public.”

The proposed detour would reroute interstate traffic around Boulder City, helping to prevent motor vehicles from clogging up Highway 93 – the only road by which commuters may travel from Las Vegas to Arizona. “I think this community is tired of what’s going on, and they have been for 10 years,” said Mayor Roger Tobler, who also pointed out that a single accident on Highway 93 can shut down the entire town of Boulder City.

The main concern is that construction of the highway detour will cause the mineral to become airborne, making it easy to inhale. Exposure to asbestos, which has been banned since the 1970s, can lead to a number of respiratory health problems, including mesothelioma, a type of cancer with an extremely low survival rate.

Since there are no federal regulations regarding naturally occurring asbestos, it is up to the state of Nevada – following guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration – to decide how to proceed. So far, there are no such regulations for the state.

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