It has long been assumed that asbestos does not move through soil. That belief led abatement professionals to bury asbestos-laden wastes and soils under a cap of clean soil. Now that assumption is challenged by a study led by Jane Willenbring of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California along with Sanjay Mohanty, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.
Instead of asbestos waste locked securely under a blanket of soil, they discovered that it can easily move through soil when dissolved organic matter in the soil adheres to the asbestos particles. This process creates a change of the electric charge on the outside of the asbestos particle making movement possible.
Willenbring, who is an associate professor in the Geosciences Research Division at Scripps, stated, “Asbestos gets coated with a very common substance that makes it easier to move. If you have water with organic matter next to the asbestos waste piles, such as a stream, you then have a pathway from the waste pile and possible to human inhalation.” This past week, Willenbring spoke at the 2016 American Chemical Society Meeting to introduce this new research with her presentation, “The Fate of Asbestos in Soil: Remediation Prospects and Paradigms.”
If further research proves this to be true, it could change the manner of asbestos disposal after remediation.