Off-Roading: Staying Safe From Asbestos Exposure

About 44 million Americans 16 and older are engaged in recreational activities involving off-road vehicles (ORVs), the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment said.

If you’re one of those people who are into ORVs, you probably notice how their air turbulence and shearing force increase the number of suspended particles in the air, particularly when you’re driving off-road or on unpaved surfaces.

ORVs may kick up asbestos on the ground. Asbestos is a natural mineral that can be dangerous when inhaled.

Exposure to this material can lead to asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, a rare cancer type with different symptoms depending on its stages.

How can you avoid or minimize your exposure to asbestos if you plan to go off-roading on an OVR like an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) or UTV (utility terrain vehicle)?

This article explains how off-roading can potentially expose a person to asbestos and also explores how to keep yourself safe from asbestos exposure while off-roading.

Ways to Stay Safe From Asbestos Exposure While Off-Roading

One recommendation to prevent or reduce asbestos exposure is to wear the appropriate protective equipment.

This equipment can include coveralls, head covers, gloves, and foot covers.

By wearing such equipment, you can prevent asbestos fibers from getting onto your skin, minimizing the possibility of bringing dust with you when you travel.

Also, you should remove your protective equipment and change to clean clothes after your off-roading adventure. Doing so can help reduce the chance of asbestos dust transferring to other people along your way.

You can also avoid breathing asbestos-containing dust by using water to wet the soil or staying on the ground covered with grass or mulch.

Avoiding off-road activities in areas identified to have naturally occurring asbestos, especially in dry environments, may also lessen the risk of exposure.

Wearing goggles and safety masks is also recommended when using ORVs. But these gears won’t eliminate the risk of asbestos exposure.

On a legislative level, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended passing laws prohibiting children below 16 from using two- and four-wheeled ORVs. The organization also suggested banning the sale of new and used three-wheeled ATVs.

How Off-Roading Can Expose You to Asbestos

Operating an ORV on unpaved surfaces can produce runaway dust emissions. In areas where naturally occurring asbestos is part of the underlying terrain, these fibers can cause asbestos concentrations in the air.

Also, most vehicles classified as ORVs (ATVs, UTVs, motorcycles, and amphibious machines) include vehicles that don’t have an enclosed cabin, putting riders at high risk for exposure to airborne fibers.

It is well-documented that people who use ORVs in many regions of the United States could be exposed to hazardous mineral fibers, including naturally occurring asbestos and erionite.

Asbestos is a heat-resistant mineral often used in numerous applications like insulation, flooring, and brakes.

Meanwhile, erionite is an asbestos-like material found in sedimentary rocks in the western United States.

You can find asbestos deposits along the Appalachian Mountains in eastern to northeastern North America. The ranges in the West and Southwest, including California, also contain this material.

The existence of asbestos in these places suggests that conducting off-road driving activities in these locations can increase your risk of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos can produce dust when it breaks up. Common scenarios are when miners dig for the material or when workers remove asbestos insulation. If you inhale or swallow this dust, the asbestos fibers can settle in your lungs or stomach, irritating these organs and causing diseases like mesothelioma.

Manufacturers designed ORVs to operate in rugged and unpaved terrain. When driven, these vehicles produce copious amounts of dust.

When people go off-roading in unpaved terrains, asbestos and other mineral fibers present in the area can become airborne due to the dust these ORVs produce.

This situation can put ORV riders at risk of inhaling asbestos. Additionally, the dust can get blown to other areas, affecting more people.

Other ways asbestos fibers can get into the air when something disturbs this material in soil or rock include:

  • Erosion or weathering of natural asbestos deposits on the ground surface
  • Crushing or breaking rocks containing natural asbestos deposits
  • Disturbing the soil contaminated by natural surface deposits during outdoor recreational activities
  • Gardening in asbestos-contaminated soil
  • Cleaning or performing other household activities that can disturb asbestos-containing dust from natural deposits

How much asbestos people can breathe or swallow due to the activities mentioned above depends on numerous factors:

  • Location
  • Type of soil where asbestos is found
  • Characteristics and age of the asbestos material
  • Moisture and weather conditions
  • Intensity of the activity that disturbs the asbestos

Visit the National Cancer Institute website at or call 1-800-422-6237 to learn about asbestos exposure and how to protect yourself from such risk.


  1. Exposure to naturally occurring mineral fibers due to off-road vehicle use: A review

  1. Asbestos Exposure and Reducing Exposure

  1. Researchers raise health concerns about off-road vehicles and inhalation of asbestos

  1. Mesothelioma: Symptoms & Causes

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