Geologists Look Into Naturally Occurring Asbestos Minerals in the Boulder City Region

Geology professor Brenda Buck and geologist Rodney Metcalf are part of a team from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas that has been investigating asbestos minerals recently found in rocks and dust from Boulder City to the southeastern edge of the Las Vegas Valley. The discovery marks the first instance of naturally occurring asbestos in southern Nevada.

Buck, who specializes in medical geology, partnered with Metcalf after discovering asbestos-like fibers in northwestern Arizona. The two decided to search for this type of mineral, actinolite, in Nevada, where there are similar rock deposits. Actinolite is one of six types of asbestos that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated a toxic substance.

The actinolite in the Boulder City region was created thirteen-million years ago in “plutons,” which are the roots of volcanoes. According to Metcalf, Boulder City is located on top of a pluton, which explains the large concentration of the asbestos minerals in the area.

Now that the dangerous material is known to exist, Buck, Metcalf, and the rest of their team plan to continue their work under a three-year grant from the Bureau of Land Management.

The industrial use of asbestos until the mid-twentieth century caused much damage to the health of those exposed, as thousands of people continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. The naturally occurring variety of asbestos is equally alarming, due to the ease of it being spread in the open air; wind or tires can stir up the fibers, which can then become afloat and primed for inhalation.

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