Researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have determined that people who ride off-road vehicles (ORVs) in certain parts of the country may be regularly exposed to asbestos during their backroad adventures.
To determine the risk riders face from traveling in areas where hazardous minerals are present in the soil, researchers at the Cincinnati hospital looked at 15 previous studies/reports that examined the effect of the dust kicked up by the vehicles.
They concluded that in a number of areas around the country, the dust can contain particles of asbestos and erionite which – when inhaled – can cause cancer.
Naturally-occurring asbestos and erionite (an asbestos-like mineral) are both found largely in the Western United States as well as in the Appalachian Mountain range.
Small deposits can be found in other regions as well. But unless the dangerous minerals have already been identified and warnings posted, most off-roaders would have no idea about how to identify minerals such as asbestos and certainly wouldn’t know that riding over it is hazardous.
Nevertheless, an article in Safety and Health Magazine notes that the study identified 665 cases in which the two materials were present in the soil in five Western states.
About 80 percent of those mineral deposits were within 20 miles of an off-road vehicle trail, and almost one-third were within one mile, the study authors noted.
“ORVs have been designed to operate in rugged, unpaved terrain, and they can produce copious amounts of dust,” Chris Wolfe, an epidemiologist and the lead author of the study, proclaimed in a press release. “This puts riders – particularly children – at risk of inhalation exposure, but the dust can also be blown to other areas and may pose a risk to others.”
Therefore, it’s best to educate oneself about where naturally-occurring asbestos is located and to avoid riding in those areas. If there is any uncertainty about the presence of the mineral(s), riders should wear safety masks in addition to helmets and any other protective gear, the study suggests.
Education is key, note the authors of the report. Individuals – both adults and children – riding ATVs, motorcycles, four-wheel drives, and other vehicles meant for off-highway use are likely not thinking about what’s in the dust they’re creating…and they should be.
A few federal regulatory agencies have expressed their concern about this issue in the past. Back in 2008, the Bureau of Land Management closed a portion of the Clear Creek Recreation Area in San Benito County, California because of the presence of one of the largest asbestos deposits in the country.
Sadly, the House of Representatives recently voted to re-open the area to off-roaders, a move that many believe is a huge mistake.
At this point, however, no one has completed any data that ascertains how many ORV users have experienced negative health episodes due to their hobby, but Wolfe hopes more studies to determine the prevalence of asbestos-related disease among those who frequently engage in ORV use where mineral fibers naturally occur will be considered in the near future.