This month Internal Medicine News published an article entitled “Mesothelioma Watch: Is Erionite the New Asbestos?” The article discussed the potential health hazards to people from the fibrous mineral found in parts of the Western United States. North Dakota’s Dunn County is particularly mentioned due to new studies showing airborne levels or erionite that are equal, or exceed, levels found in Boyali, Turkey where there is reported to be a 6.25% mesothelioma-related mortality rate.
According to the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH), “Some properties of erionite are similar to the properties of asbestos; however, erionite is not currently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the six asbestos fibers.” The NDDoH goes on to report, “Like asbestos, erionite may pose health risks to those who breathe in the fibers. It appears to be associated with increased risks of fibrogenic lung disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma (a rare type of respiratory cancer usually related to asbestos exposure). Although toxic effects were documented in a study of three small villages in Turkey in the 1970s, there have been few studies of erionite in the United States.”
The erionite is of particular concern in places such as North Dakota because gravel containing the mineral has been mined over the past few decades and used to surface county roads, parking lots and other areas. In 2008, in the North Dakota town of Killdeer, a baseball field was even closed after erionite was found in gravel on the field.
One of the largest environmental testing laboratories specializing in erionite analysis is EMSL Analytical, Inc. “According to the NDDoH reducing exposure to erionite, due to its inherently toxic nature, is recommended,” reported Joe Frasca, Senior Vice President, Marketing at EMSL. “Testing gravel or air samples is the only way to know for sure if erionite is a potential health threat.”