Studies have shown that erionite may be the most toxic fibrous mineral in existence. In fact, it may be far more carcinogenic (100-800 times) than asbestos. Erionite exposure can occur in many places as it is found throughout the world. It exists in materials used for home construction outside the United States and in gravel in the U.S. When erionite is broken into pieces, it can become airborne. Inhalation of these airborne fibers has been proven to cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.
Gravel containing erionite has been used to pave hundreds of miles of American roadways, most notably in North Dakota. Erionite can also be found in other states throughout the American West, including South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Oregon. If you feel that you or someone you love may have been exposed to dangerous levels of airborne erionite, contact a mesothelioma lawyer today.
Erionite is a brittle, fibrous mineral found in areas where rock and volcanic ash have been exposed to weathering, typically from alkaline water. It is clear or white in color, and clusters of erionite resemble wool or glass.
Similar to the mineral asbestos, erionite can be extremely dangerous when it is disturbed and released into the air. Also, like asbestos fibers, microscopic erionite fibers can be inhaled and enter the lungs. Once inhaled, their size allows them to subvert the lungs’ natural filtration system and lodge in the mesothelium — the protective lining that surrounds vital organs. This, in turn, can lead to a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma. Erionite exposure is most closely associated with mesothelioma of the peritoneum (stomach lining), and the pleura (lining of the lungs). It also appears to be linked to fibrogenic lung disease and lung cancer.
Erionite is not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) despite the fact that it shares many properties with asbestos and poses similar dangers.
Prior to the 1970s, asbestos exposure was the only known cause of mesothelioma.
Then, in a devastating turn of events, villagers in the famed Cappadocia region of Central Anatolia, Turkey, began to develop mesothelioma in droves. In the villages of Karain, Boyal, Sarihidir and Tuzkov, mesothelioma was responsible for as many as 50 percent of deaths. An investigation found that the villagers’ homes had been constructed with soil rich in erionite.
The case of the Turkish "cancer villages" went largely unnoticed outside Turkey. In the United States, the dangers associated with erionite were unknown even to most members of the scientific community until 2005, when a chance meeting of geologists led to a study of erionite in North Dakota. The study found that gravel containing large amounts of erionite had been used to pave hundreds of miles of roads. Erionite particles were found on roads as well as on and in vehicles. Authors of the study’s findings concluded that residents of North Dakota have cause for concern, particularly those living in Dunn County where most of the roads containing erionite were paved. The authors also recommended the creation of preventive programs in North Dakota and other states where erionite deposits are prevalent.
A separate study of those who may have had high levels of exposure from erionite-containing gravel in the U.S. found two people with a type of lung scarring called pleural plaque, a typical symptom of mesothelioma caused by inhaling mineral fibers such as erionite and asbestos. Though no cases of mesothelioma were detected, this is not unexpected since mesothelioma diagnosis does not typically occur until 30-60 years after initial exposure.
Thus far, there is no proof that erionite has caused any cases of mesothelioma in the United States, but it is highly plausible that cases will emerge in the years to come. When cases do emerge, the treatment will be similar to mesothelioma treatment. Also, mesothelioma life expectancy caused by erionite exposure is expected to be similar to that caused by asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, federal agencies have yet to inform residents, developers and others of the dangers. Also, it is doubtful that all of the workers who used erionite in the U.S. to produce gravel and pave roads have been advised of the risks. However, some scientists and government officials have taken steps to bring more attention to the matter. In October of 2011, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) held a meeting to discuss the risks associated with erionite and other potentially dangerous minerals. Notable agencies attending included the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Some states have begun to take precautions to avoid repeating the devastating events in Turkey, not to mention Libby, Montana, where scores of residents perished as a result of mining a mineral called Vermiculite, which contained lethal asbestos fibers.
The use of gravel containing erionite is now forbidden in North Dakota, and other states such as Oregon, Montana and South Dakota have taken safety measure in some areas. But dust from highly-trafficked roads paved with such gravel continues to worry residents. At the time of writing, a study was underway to identify ways to reduce the release of dust from gravel containing erionite.
These efforts should help to prevent cases of erionite mesothelioma. But because of the long latency period associated with the diseases, it is plausible that some of those exposed to erionite particles in past years will develop mesothelioma.
Those who may have been harmed by exposure to erionite should monitor their health and speak to a physician about any tests that can identify health problems associated with inhaling erionite dust.
You should also consider contacting a mesothelioma attorney if you believe you or a loved one may have been harmed by inhaling erionite. The party or parties responsible for your exposure may be legally liable for any harm it has caused. A mesothelioma attorney may be able to obtain compensation for you for medical expenses and loss of income due to illness.
Notably, the general duty clause of OSHA Act 1970 section 5 (a) (1) states, "the employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;" In other words, employers are responsible for protecting their employees from dangerous situations, including toxic substances such as asbestos and erionite. Contact a mesothelioma lawyer for more information.
[Page updated November 2011]