Erionite Involvement in Malignant Mesothelioma

Over 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are reported in the United States each year. The naturally-occurring mineral asbestos, which is still mined and manufactured globally, is most commonly attributed to mesothelioma in the western world. This rare and rapidly progressive cancer is now considered an epidemic among miners and others exposed through occupations. Malignant mesothelioma specifically arises from the cells lining the pleural, peritoneal and pericardial cavities which surround the lungs, chest, heart, and abdomen. While exposure to asbestos is the most generally known cause of mesothelioma, erionite has caused unprecedented rates of mesothelioma in Europe. Erionite is a natural mineral with many of the same physical properties as asbestos. Erionite is recognized as a class 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which has also confirmed it as a cause of malignant mesothelioma.

Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warns the public of possible environmental exposure to harmful minerals such as erionite and asbestos. If you developed an illness such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, or lung cancer as the result of exposure, contact a mesothelioma attorney immediately so that we can evaluate your potential asbestos claim.

Natural erionate deposits are present in at least 12 states, including hazardous levels in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. A recent study investigated whether increased urban development has led to erionite exposure in the United States following a related mesothelioma epidemic in Turkey. This epidemic was first described in several Turkish villages in 1978. Since then, as rural areas are being developed, environmental and occupational exposure to erionite may occur and reports describing cases of erionite-associated disease in North America have already begun to emerge. Thus, geologic formations containing erionite with a potential for environmental exposures must be promptly identified to prevent the risk of “disturbing” erionite fibers and exposing the population, as has occurred in Turkey.

The study focused on a country in North Dakota containing erionite formations which were being used to produce gravel. More than 300 miles of roads, including 32 miles of school bus routes, parking lots, playgrounds, and baseball fields were paved with erionte-containing gravel. Air sampling was performed during activities that disturb gravel such as driving, raking, and sweeping, with air monitoring done in the breathing zone of the individuals performing the activities. It was found that when erionite-containing gravel is disturbed, erionite fibers become airborne and can enter the personal breathing zone.

An in-depth survey was conducted of air fiber concentrations in the villages in Turkey where an excess of mesothelioma occurred to establish the concentration levels associated with an increased risk of the cancer. It was found that the physical and chemical characteristics and the biological activity of erionite from ND and Turkey were very similar. Whereas a safe level of erionite exposure is not known, in general, increased intensity, frequency, and duration of exposure increase the likelihood for mineral fiber-related health problems. Erionite exposure in ND is of particular concern for children, where fibers lodged in the lungs may be able to exert their toxic effects for many more years compared with exposures during adulthood.

With expanded oil exploration in ND, use of erionite-containing gravel and traffic on the roads has increased significantly over the past few decades, leading to greater exposure. Although our studies were limited to Dunn County, ND, we are aware that similar erionite-contaminated gravel was and likely continues to be used in other places, for example in South Dakota.

In contrast to asbestos, there are no health benchmarks established in the United States to regulate erionite use and exposure. As erionite carcinogenicity is at least equal to that of asbestos, observed erionite exposures for individuals in ND such as school bus drivers and children, road workers, and others regularly using the roads, may exceed an estimated risk probability of one additional cancer per 10,000 people–a benchmark often used by regulatory agencies for risk management actions. It should be underscored here that some published literature indicates that erionite is much more potent than asbestos in causing malignant mesothelioma.

ND is not part of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database and precise data about the incidence of MM during the past decades are not available. Current MM incidence in ND is estimated to be within the expected range of US states with higher exposure, despite, to the best of our knowledge, the lack of shipyards or asbestos-based trades in ND.

Asbestos lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn the public of the environmental hazards of erionite.If you suspect development of a related illness,contact a lung cancer attorney for a free consultation.