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Study: Off-road vehicle use may expose riders to asbestos

A recent meta-analysis of 15 prior studies and reports found that off-road vehicle (ORV) use is associated with asbestos exposure. That means there is a risk that riders could develop mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and other diseases.

The problem is that ORVs kick up a lot of dust, and asbestos has been found to occur naturally in the Appalachian mountain range and ranges throughout the West and Southwest.

While naturally occurring, asbestos has been used for a wide variety of industrial purposes, including in insulation, vehicle brakes, shipping and railroads and others. It is now regulated relatively strictly because exposure to it has been shown to cause lung and respiratory conditions, including mesothelioma, a deadly cancer.

Most ORV trails are within 20 miles of asbestos deposits, which occur naturally. Off-road and all-terrain vehicles are designed to be ridden on unpaved terrain and create copious dust. That dust can be filled with asbestos fibers and other airborne minerals.

"This puts riders -- particularly children -- at risk of inhalation," said the study's lead author, an epidemiologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

The risk is serious. In 2008, California's Clear Creek Recreation Area was closed on an emergency basis because of its proximity to the nation's largest asbestos deposit. It remains closed, although a bill to reopen it for ORV use has passed the House of Representatives.

According to the meta-analysis, the main risk is riding on unpaved surfaces, which is largely the point of ORV use. Neither the speed at which the ORV is ridden and whether an ORV was alone or in a group was found to be determinative.

Off-roading is an extremely popular activity in New Mexico and nationwide, with some 44 million Americans taking part annually.

The authors of the study recommend creating public health initiatives to spread awareness of this risk. Those who ride ORVs near asbestos deposits should have their health monitored, as well.

If you or a loved one is suffering from mesothelioma or another disease associated with asbestos, you should consider talking with an attorney. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for compensation through an existing asbestos trust.

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