|Asbestos fibers can get deep into the lungs|
and affect people's health.
Prolonged exposure to the substance found inside the rocks has been shown to cause lung cancer, and investigators recommended in a draft report that signs be posted "alerting people to the dangers of asbestos exposure."
Residents, however, were never formally notified of the discovery by federal, state or local officials — a case that experts and others say highlights the challenges authorities face when dealing with naturally occurring hazards.
Jean Melious, an environmental and land-use lawyer who teaches environmental studies at Western Washington University, said natural asbestos is vexing for government agencies, partly because it's not a disaster that calls for immediate action.
"It's a lot easier for government to work when there's a big hue and cry," she said.
Andy Smith, an on-scene coordinate with the EPA, said no government agency has total authority over natural asbestos.
"This kind of problem falls in the cracks," he said.
Natural asbestos occurs throughout US
Natural asbestos is often found in certain types of rocks and near fault zones. It can be released into the air from the rocks when they are broken or crushed, as often occurs during mining or development.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources says naturally occurring asbestos has been found in areas in the northern part of the state and experts say it occurs throughout the United States.
Keith Welch, a resident of the Burlington Hill housing development who alerted federal authorities, said he's frustrated the authorities haven't been more proactive in telling people about the presence of asbestos and doing more comprehensive studies.
"It's one thing to be cautious," Welch said. "Now that it's been identified, somebody needs to do something about it."
The Burlington Hill case has helped agencies discuss best practices for permitting and public awareness, said Katie Skipper of the Northwest Clean Air Agency, which is responsible for enforcing air pollution regulations in Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties.
In June, Skagit County posted information about naturally occurring asbestos in the environmental health section of its website. It mentions the asbestos on Burlington Hill in one sentence, and provides links to other asbestos-related information.
In its March 2013 report, the EPA said it found actinolite asbestos along a road cut on the northeastern side of Burlington Hill. No asbestos was found at three other locations sampled.
Because of the health risks associated with asbestos, the report said people should limit their exposure to the asbestos and that a more thorough study would need to be done to determine how much asbestos might be at the site.
Source: KOMO News
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