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‘Off-roading’ can expose riders to asbestos, health experts warn

Photo: JMichl/iStockphoto

Cincinnati – People who participate in “off-roading” in certain areas of the United States may be exposed to cancer-causing substances, including asbestos, according to researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The researchers looked at 15 previous studies and reports to determine the risk caused by off-road vehicle use in regions known to have hazardous mineral fibers in the soil or unpaved road surfaces. Dust churned up by four-wheel-drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and other vehicles intended for off-highway use can contain naturally occurring asbestos and erionite – an asbestos-like substance found in sedimentary rocks in the western United States and Appalachian Mountains.

Researchers found 665 cases in which the two materials were present in the soil in five Western states. About 80 percent were within 20 miles of an off-road vehicle trail, and almost one-third were within one mile.

“ORVs have been designed to operate in rugged, unpaved terrain, and they can produce copious amounts of dust,” Chris Wolfe, an epidemiologist and lead author of the study, said 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.”

Wolfe suggests that riders either avoid these locations altogether or wear safety masks and eyewear to reduce exposure.

The study was published online July 20 in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.

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