Asbestos is a generic term used to describe hydrated magnesium silicate minerals that crystallize as bundles of long, thin fibers which readily separate when broken or crushed. These minerals include chrysotile (serpentine) and fibrous varieties of amphibole group minerals such as crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, byssolite, and actinolite. The special properties of asbestos — high tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to heat, chemicals, and electricity — have made it well suited for a number of commercial applications, particularly as fire-resistant tiles and insulation.
The first large-scale production in the U.S. began in 1894 at the Sall Mountain area of Georgia. Since then, asbestos has been mined in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, with at least sixty mines operating in the Eastern U.S. at various times. The Lowell quarry in north-central Vermont was the last asbestos mine to operate in the East, closing in 1993, and the last operation in the West closed in 2002. Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States.
Asbestos can be broken into tiny fibers, which can remain airborne for long periods of time. These fibers are exceptionally resistant to degradation and persist in the environment. Mounting evidence throughout the 20th century indicated that inhalation of asbestos fibers caused respiratory diseases, and many workers in asbestos-related occupations have been seriously affected. Exposure to asbestos has been linked to a number of serious health problems and diseases, particularly lung cancer. The most serious health risks are associated with asbestos concentrated in building materials that are disturbed during remodeling or demolition.
Asbestos minerals also occur naturally in rocks, saprolite, and soil. Naturally occurring asbestos that has been disturbed by human activities can be a health concern. Studies from California and Wyoming found that asbestos fibers released into the atmosphere from mining and quarrying posed a direct health threat to the nearby population.
Counties in Virginia that contain rocks with high levels of naturally occurring asbestos. Click on the map to see details about known asbestos locations in the Commonwealth.
In Virginia, asbestos minerals occur naturally, mostly in metamorphosed ultramafic rocks such as serpentine and soapstone in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge provinces. The U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 2005–1189 provides information on twenty-eight asbestos sites in Virginia — nineteen reported occurrences, seven former prospects and two inactive production mines. The map to the right shows Virginia counties in which asbestos minerals are known to occur . These areas are considered potentially at risk, although the volume of atmospheric-borne asbestos minerals associated with these rocks is unknown.
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry regulates asbestos as an indoor air contaminant, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is responsible for the regulation of landfills in Virginia that dispose of asbestos materials, but no State agency is responsible for monitoring naturally occurring atmospheric-borne asbestos. The Fairfax County Health Department has developed an asbestos exposure control plan that is mandated for use in construction projects that excavate asbestos within the County.
Known Asbestos Occurrences in Virginia
Numerous excavations, for example just east of Centreville, and east of the intersection of US 50 and I-66. Fibrous masses of asbestiform anthophyllite with fibers up to 30 cm long with tremolite and byssolite at Sisslers Quarry (aka Fairfax Quarry, or Centreville Quarry) a short distance south of Routes 29-211 approximately [1.4 miles east, or 3-4 miles west?] of Centreville.
In small cavities in diabase at the Arlington Quarry (aka Old Goose Creek Quarry or Belmont Quarry) on Rt. 7 at Goose Creek near Leesburg. Also in the New Goose Creek Quarry, west of State Road 659 in Belmont, 220 yards southwest of old Goose Creek Quarry. In calcite at the Virginia Lime and Marble quarry on the south side of Goose Creek. Fibrous masses in diabase at the Bull Run Quarry, just east of SR 659, approximately 3 miles south-southwest of Conklin. Acicular tufts of actinolite and radiating groups of tremolite at Veasco Quarry on Goose Creek near Oatlands.
Prince William County
Byssolite at Gainesville diabase quarry 1 mile west-southwest of Gainesville, and at the Manassas Quarry north of SR 674 about 2.5 miles northwest of Manassas. Actinolite at the Cabin Branch Mine north of Quantico Creek in Prince William Park about 1.6 miles east of Dumfries.
Bladed actinolite crystals in talc-rich rocks along Four Mile Run upstream from McKinley Road
Northern Blue Ridge Mountains
Serpentine asbestos is part of the gangue of the copper minerals in the Ida mine about 1 mile northwest of Ida.
Asbestos at the shaft on the Martin property located 2 miles northwest of the Empire Vein copper prospects and 2 miles southeast of Bentonville.
Cross-fiber asbestos in greenstone near Chester Gap south of Markham.
Asbestiform anthophyllite in 5-foot-wide shear zone along SR 603 about 2 miles north of Duet.
Small rosettes of actinolite in the soapstone deposits near Old Dominion, in soapstone in vicinity of Alberene.
“Slip-fiber” asbestiform anthophyllite was mined in the early 20th century near Chestnut Ford, 12 miles south of Bedford.
Actinolite in soapstone quarries near Schuyler.
Large laths of actinolite at the foot of Willis Mountain; anthophyllite constitutes a major portion of garnet-bearing amphibolite along railroad at New Canton.
Asbestos (actinolite?) at Chula, 7 miles north of Mattox Station near the Appomattox River. Byssolite near Amelia Courthouse.
Bladed actinolite and anthophyllite at the old Sulphur mine near Mineral. Tremolite at abandoned mines on Copper Creek north of Mineral.
Anthophyllite is a major constituent of garnet-bearing amphibolite about 0.75 miles north-northeast of Stage Junction.
Asbestos near Maidens.
Radiating crystals of actinolite in the mica mine near Hewlett’s Station, as acicular inclusion in quartz at feldspar pit near Montpelier.
Prince Edward County
Anthophyllite is a major constituent of garnet-bearing amphibolite about 1.5 miles northeast of Darlington Heights.
South Central and Southwestern Virginia
Asbestos mined two miles east of Rocky Mount.
Large crystals and fibrous, radial, and plumose actinolite intergrown with ore minerals at Betty Baker Mine on the Gossan Lead; actinolite is abundant at a vivianite locality 3 miles north of Galax. Also along the Carroll/Grayson County line 7 miles from Galax and 2 miles from Coal Creek Church.
Near the northern opening on the Gossan Lead; on the Little River below the Hampton Mine. Tremolite in marble ½ mile southwest of Grant. Crocidolite fibers near the Mouth of Wilson.
Asbestos in narrow veins in the central part of the Axton area near the Pittsylvania County line. Anthophyllite 2.2 miles northeast of Ridgeway; fibers up to 25 cm; also east of Axton near the Pittsylvania line. Crocidolite also occurs in Triassic sedimentary rocks that crop out west of Danville near the State line
Asbestos at the lead and zinc mines on Painters branch.
Near Barton and Singers. Asbestiform anthophyllite fibers up to 90 cm long near the Franklin County line about 5.3 miles southeast of Floyd and 3.6 m southwest of Pizarro. Anthophyllite in soapstone approximately 4.5 m south of Shelors Mill. Brittle fibers in crosscutting veinlets near Blue Ridge Parkway 3.6 [5.3?] miles southeast of Floyd and 3.6 miles southwest of Pizarro.
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