What Is Erionite?
Erionite is a mineral fiber that is usually found in rock formations and volcanic ash. Containing many characteristics that are similar to asbestos, it is known to be a contributor to the development of mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the linings of various organs including the lungs. The World Health Organization and International Agency for Research of Cancer, along with other well-recognized health organizations and agencies, have classified erionite as a Group 1 carcinogen, labeling it as a cancer-causing agent.
Like countless other minerals, erionite is found in multiple places in the world, with much of the recent research being focused on the United States. The affects of the exposure to erionite are still being studied, and because of the latency of the associated effects, conclusive results may not be available for years to come.
Where is it Found
Erionite is typically present in mountainous areas or in rock formations all over the world. In the United States, erionite is more prevalent in the western region, in states like North Dakota, South Dakota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. This mineral fiber is usually found in the rocks or stones of these states, often resulting in commercial use as gravel and road development material. The presence of the mineral has also been found in other areas of North America, with two noted cases of people in Mexico having had erionite exposure.
Erionite is quite prevalent in some regions of Turkey, where a tremendous amount of research has been conducted on the exposure and effects of the mineral. More specifically, large amounts of erionite were found in four Turkish villages, including Karain, Sarihidir, Tuzkov and Boyali. These villages have received tremendous amounts of attention for their proportionally high number of mesothelioma cases and related deaths. In some cases, mesothelioma accounted for as many as 50 percent of the total deaths that occurred in the villages during a select period of time. As more attention is focused on the effects of erionite exposure, it is likely that new locations of its whereabouts may be determined.
Exposure to dangerous mineral fibers like erionite can occur in multiple ways. Similar to asbestos, erionite is sometimes used for industrial or constructional purposes, such as the building of homes and roads, which was the case in Turkey. The occupational hazard was extremely high for road and home builders in Turkey. Prolonged exposure, over the course of years, can prove to be detrimental to people's health, specifically as it relates to the development of mesothelioma.
In the United States, erionite is often used for the creation of gravel roads, as noted in North Dakota. A University of Hawaii study demonstrated that the erionite found in the gravel of the roads used in states like North Dakota, is extremely similar to the forms of erionite found in Turkey. The study explained that exposure in certain areas can be extremely worrisome simply because the mineral is most dangerous when it is stirred up in the air. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens when automobiles drive over the rock gravel and cause the dust and mineral particles to move from the ground to the air.
According to the study, which was published in the July 25, 2011 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), more than 300 miles of the road are now paved with the gravel, resulting in the continual stirring up of erionite particles in the air that exposes drivers who travel these routes on a daily basis. For citizens in the area such as students and commuters, traveling on this same path, in some cases for years and years, can result in the constant exposure that is required to make this mineral a cancer-causing agent.
Experts assume that there may be a dramatic increase in the number of mesothelioma cases that are diagnosed in areas such as North Dakota over the next 10 to 30 years, as a result of the latency that is often associated with minerals like erionite and asbestos. Many of these roads have been utilizing these gravel rocks since the late 1980s.
Similarities to Asbestos
The effects of asbestos have been noted and studied for centuries. On the other hand, research on erionite is less abundant and therefore less conclusive. One of the earlier studies and research conducted on erionite and its effects occurred in Turkey in the late 1980s. The results from this study demonstrated a clear causal association between the exposure to erionite and the formation of mesothelioma. Just like asbestos, erionite is also known for an extended latency period for mesothelioma to arise, and people are usually exposed through inhalation.
While asbestos is used in commercial and industrial settings for the purposes of building and manufacturing, erionite can sometimes be found in a similar setting. However, it is more common to find erionite in an environmental setting as it is rarely used for commercialization of products or building. Both minerals can be present in a rock form or a dust-like setting, and both are most dangerous when the fibers are able to be inhaled.
At a microscopic level, erionite and asbestos share many similarities yet they also have distinguishing characteristics. Continued research will allow experts to better determine the differences, which will hopefully provide a better guide on how erionite should be viewed and regulated.
Regulations and Laws
Studies on erionite have been performed at a much lesser degree than asbestos, partially explaining why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to provide any regulation on the mineral. Although it is widely accepted as a hazardous mineral and carcinogen, little has been done in the way of legal constraints to limit the use of it, especially in the United States.
With regards to asbestos, laws and regulations about how companies and people can use it, have become better defined as the correlation between asbestos and mesothelioma have become more evident. Because of the immense similarities between erionite and asbestos, this legal trend may hold consistent with future laws regulating erionite. This could mean limited regulation until enough deaths from erionite exposure in the United States occurs. To best understand what impact erionite may have on your health, it is beneficial to use current and accurate research about erionite to guide your involvement with it, as opposed to waiting for laws and regulations to guide you.