Hiking on Asbestos.

9:03 p.m. on July 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Well here's a backcountry problem I never expected to have. Asbestos!

I followed coastline into a nice little cove with a gravel beach. Noticed that many of the rocks had shiny white veins, which I figured were quartz. The brook that ran down to the beach was very low (dry summer) and a lot of gravel was exposed, making it easy to walk up into the woods to check out the birds. There was a grey substance that looked like laundry lint all over the gravel, and I puzzled over it.

Finally it dawned. I was downstream from an asbestos mine that closed about thirty years ago. The land is now Crown land again (i.e. Canadian government) and isn't closed to the public in any way. It's just remote enough I guess that nobody bothers to go there.

So I walked back down to the beach over the asbestos lint, and then along the beach over all that raw asbestos ore. I ended up convincing myself that while the lint should probably be avoided, the rocks weren't likely to do me any harm. So I stuck around and did my birdwatching thing.

Was I right? I've googled 'asbestos exposure' but of course all the information is about mining and building materials. Nothing about hiking on it, can you believe that? :)

Thing is, the birdwatching was excellent, and I got a few new names for the life list. Can I go back?



10:03 p.m. on July 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Eeek, I have a respirator I could send you if ya need it. I have worked around this stuff on many an occasion(typically removal of corrugated sheets on large structures.)

I would think that from walking on the lint that it is possible that particles could be kicked up into the air which in turn could be inhaled...

Notice I say COULD. 

My opinion is that this would have to be in very dry conditions and I highly doubt what minimal exposure that you experienced(if any) would cause you any grief. 

I personally wouldn't worry much. 

I would consider possibly contacting someone(whomever oversees this type of thing up your way) and inquire about the situation further. 

Asbestos is bad stuff. 

It is a well known fact that it can do substantial harm to humans(Mesothelioma.)

I would think that it could also cause problems in the respiratory system of the local wildlife as well. 

At the same time the catch 22 is that they quite possibly will do what they have to to deny human access to this area being the cost of disposal of asbestos is quite expensive not to mention the extensive clean-up that would be involved. 

Proper clean-up & disposal for something like this would be quite an expensive project/undertaking and from what I get from your post a large undertaking at that.

At least it would be here in the lower 48.

2:42 a.m. on July 19, 2013 (EDT)
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was the asbestos wet or dry? wet asbestos is safe to walk on. it's the fibers that get inhaled and cause problems with mesothelioma. if the asbestos is dry, stay away from it. far away!

8:45 a.m. on July 19, 2013 (EDT)
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Asbestos has been mined in Quebec for many decades and continued at the town of Asbestos right up until last year. While it couldn't be sold in North America or Europe, the Canadian government was apparently less concerned about it being exported to third-world countries. Cleaning up the minesites is impossible to do completely, but remember that most of it is buried underground.

In its natural state, it's just a kind of rock (as shown in your photos) and would be quite cohesive. As mentioned, it's the tiny loose particles that can attach themselves inside your lungs and cause respiratory problems. Logically, though, unless you were kicking up clouds of asbestos off the beach, you wouldn't be in any danger. Dust would blow away and the rocks themselves would  stay in one piece. Every rainstorm would wash the dust into the sea, and what's left should be pretty much attached to the rock.

I wouldn't worry about it unless you were in one of the old mine pits where the concentrations would be much, much higher. 

9:27 a.m. on July 19, 2013 (EDT)
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Given that Newfoundland has 18,000 miles of coastline, I guess I can find somewhere else to go. :)

It has been a weirdly dry summer, even in the deep woods the moss has cracked into dusty bricks. So I probably picked the worst possible time to walk on this stuff. It was a bit windy, too, which wouldn't have helped. Oh well, can't unwalk it, not going to worry about it.

Rick's point about the wildlife is a worry to me. I mentioned the abundant bird life, they seem to be doing okay. There was no sign of moose or bears, which is unusual for a stream in Newfoundland. And what about the fish? All that lint is in the streambed and going into the ocean. Do gills get mesothelioma?

If I thought this was a threat to wildlife, I'd be talking to the Department of Natural Resources. But I know the mere mention of asbestos can freak people out, and I wouldn't want the government allocating piles of money to something that isn't actually hurting the environment. And this is a case where 'remediation' would mean total landscape destruction, at least in the short term. Don't see how they can dig up a stream and a beach without possibly doing more damage, and the source of all this is a truly massive waste pile in the middle of nowhere. This is the narrow end of it, and it's far away in this picture. It must be a few hundred feet high.


A few warning signs for any people that stumble over it might be a good idea, but otherwise I kind of figure people can look out for themselves. The animals, however, can't.

But maybe the shorter life span of animals means less chance of damage/cancer for them? I really can't google up anything on wildlife and asbestos exposure. Maybe Nature will do a better job of making this stuff inert than people ever could? And it has to go somewhere, I guess.

9:40 a.m. on July 19, 2013 (EDT)
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Wow! That's a huge tailings pile. And look at the slide path!

The dust would certainly be a risk, but I don't see wildlife spending a lot of time hanging around a barren mound of gravel. 

In terms of remediation, every shovelful they dig up would only expose more of the ore. It would have to be covered over, but unless you shipped in topsoil from somewhere else, you'd be opening up new seams all the time. 

10:37 a.m. on July 19, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks Peter! I think maybe I will trust Nature on this one, instead of the government. :)

12:50 p.m. on July 20, 2013 (EDT)
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Regarding wildlife and asbestos, the Cassiar mine in NW BC has one of the largest deposits of long fiber asbestos in North America. The deposits were known to early explorers when they found bird nests made from mysterious fibers. The Cassiar deposits are also well known for having high concentrations of jadeite.

4:23 p.m. on July 20, 2013 (EDT)
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Among the many risks in the hills around here, in Almaden Quicksilver County Park, we have large areas of serpentine, which is one of 6 naturally occurring forms of asbestos. Oh, and yes as you will have guessed "Quicksilver" park is an area that includes a large number of abandoned mercury mines. Mercury is used in the refining of gold, the metal that attracted the Forty-niners to California during the Gold Rush. Sooo, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, particularly Almaden Valley (famous for the Almaden Vineyards, source of much of the NorCal wine industry), there were extensive mercury mines. In Almaden Quicksilver park, you are to stay on the trails in most of the park and definitely not go cross-country in the serpentine areas. There are also lots of signs along the creeks and ponds in the Almaden Valley to NOT eat the fish, which are highly contaminated with mercury. Wine is not produced in the Almaden Valley these days (moved to the Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino area in the North Bay). There are a lot of the old tunnels for the mercury mines and abandoned processing structures (fenced off). The mining of quicksilver apparently continued into the late 20th Century, judging by the signs describing the mining processing buildings.

4:34 p.m. on July 20, 2013 (EDT)
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Insulated bird nests!

So maybe it's no wonder the birds were so diverse and numerous out there! A sheltered stream with all the warm fluffy stuff a bird could ever want, free for the taking.

Thanks Erich, I learned a thing today!

Bill, in the neighbourhood of this old asbestos mine are gold and copper mines. Today I found a PDF of an environmental assessment done a few years ago, and apart from the asbestos fibres, there are bad levels of chromium, nickel and arsenic.

I don't know if I'll go back there, but if I do, I certainly won't be drinking from that stream. Don't think my Sawyer can handle that. :)

December 14, 2018
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