Center for Biological Diversity

Keep Asbestos-laden Off-roading Area Closed

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The 75,000-acre Clear Creek Management Area in southern San Benito and western Fresno counties in California's bucolic backcountry supports a diverse array of rare and unique plants. Its distinctive landscape of piney woods interspersed with open "barrens" is designated by the Bureau of Land Management as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Thirteen rare plants call the Clear Creek area's distinctive serpentine soils home, including the San Benito evening primrose, a diminutive wildflower listed as a federally threatened species.
But the soils in the area are also laden with carcinogenic asbestos. A Superfund site was already in place to clean up after historic, out-of-commission asbestos mines when off-road vehicles moved in, turning the area into a mecca for off-road mayhem, trampling fragile plant life, and releasing asbestos in their wake.

To protect the area's rare plants, the Center for Biological Diversity and allies filed suit in 2004 to reign in illegal off-roading. After we filed our lawsuit, the Environmental Protection Agency prepared an Asbestos Exposure and Human Health Risk Assessment for Clear Creek. The assessment identified significant health concerns due to asbestos-laced dust kicked up by off-road vehicles, prompting the Bureau of Land Management to close the area to all entry.

Now, the Bureau has revised the management plan for the Clear Creek Management Area and plans to reopen the area to vehicles that will continue to cause habitat degradation harming the rare plant community and cause airborne asbestos levels to exceed the EPA's acceptable risk range. 

Please send a letter to the Bureau of Land Management today in support of keeping the Clear Creek Management Area closed to vehicles -- not only to protect plants and animals that call the area home, but to prevent unnecessary human health hazards from occurring.

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Please submit comments by April 19, 2010.

San Benito evening primrose photo courtesy BLM.

The EPA's Asbestos Exposure and Human Health Risk Assessment for Clear Creek found that airborne concentration of asbestos was directly related to soil disturbance activities; children were exposed to higher asbestos levels, and were more affected by the exposure, than were adults; activities with the highest exposure -- motorcycling, ATV riding, and SUV driving/riding -- had the highest corresponding excess lifetime cancer risk; and reducing exposure would reduce the risk of developing asbestos related cancers and debilitating and potentially fatal non-cancer diseases.