Yesterday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) abruptly closed the Clear Creek Management Area in San Benito County, Calif. after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a report stating that the area contains extremely high levels of toxic asbestos.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the EPA labeled Clear Creek “a virtual death zone” where five visits a year over three decades could lead to lung cancer and other serious pulmonary diseases.
The 48-square-mile patch of land in the Diablo Mountains will be closed for the foreseeable future, said a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, the organization that oversees the Clear Creek area.
The EPA report notes that participation in any sort of recreational activity at Clear Creek presents a hazard, but the data was especially aimed at those who enjoy off-roading in the area. The EPA found that dangerous levels of asbestos dust were being stirred up by motorcycles and other off-road vehicles.
The report also added that other activities, such as hiking and camping, could be hazardous as well, especially to children, who tend to inhale toxic asbestos quicker and more easily. Previous studies over several decades found high levels of asbestos in the area, but the results were “not as conclusive” as in the new 160-page assessment, EPA officials said Thursday.
For the last three years, the BLM has closed the area from June to October, which are the driest and dustiest months in central California. Closing the site year-round was “an extremely tough decision,” said bureau Field Manager Rick Cooper. “But my first priority must be protecting the health of visitors and employees.”