EPA Performing Asbestos Tests in El Dorado Hills, California

Public Parks and Schools Tested for Airborne Asbestos Hazards

EL DORADO HILLS, CA - October 8, 2004 - Residents of this small city witnessed an odd sight last week-workers in protective masks and full hazard gear playing baseball at a local park. The aim was not to score points or to beat an opposing team. These were employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), kicking up dust to collect air samples for asbestos testing. They wanted to know the asbestos levels that people could be exposed to while using the park for everyday sports activities. The agency will also test for asbestos around Oak Ridge High School, playgrounds, and various trails. The results should be available within two months, according to an EPA spokesperson (Sacramento Bee, October 2, 2004; KXTV News 10, October 2, 2004).

El Dorado Hills is located in El Dorado County, which has a type of soil called serpentine that is rich in natural asbestos. Asbestos fibers may become airborne when the soil becomes disturbed through construction, excavation, road building, sports activities, or even heavy foot traffic. Once inhaled, asbestos fibers can cause serious diseases decades later. These illnesses include asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that attacks the membranes lining the lungs, chest, or stomach.

El Dorado Hills has a history of asbestos problems and repeated air quality testing (seeEPA Region 9: Naturally Occurring Asbestos). In 2002, grading for soccer fields at Oak Ridge High School disturbed a vein of asbestos. After receiving requests from the state, the school district tested playing fields for asbestos releases. One asbestos test showed the potential for asbestos exposure from activities such as outdoor sports, construction, and maintenance.

After the school district declined an EPA request for further asbestos testing, the agency began its own asbestos sampling program at Oak Ridge High. Out of 158 samples, 25 percent contained more than one percent of asbestos. Under the guidance of the EPA, the school district then landscaped areas to cover up bare soil, removed asbestos-contaminated soil, and paved some dirt areas and access roads. The agency later checked asbestos levels in classrooms, and found one which needed to be cleaned up. The work continues.

Asbestos levels may also be high in homes located near the high school and surrounding areas. Additional construction could lead to greater risk of asbestos exposure in Oak Ridge and nearby neighborhoods. The community remains concerned about the safety of future maintenance work at the high school and elsewhere throughout the city.