Ignorance is not always bliss.
Despite the fact that some residents of North Dakota were not aware their roadways contained the toxic mineral erionite does not change the fact that their health may be in serious danger.
Erionite, a mineral that is similar to asbestos and is known to cause mesothelioma, was used for roadway construction in the state for years. The mineral can also be found in 11 other states in the western U.S. The problem was that residents, scientists, researchers and legislators in N.D. didn’t fully understand the dangers of it.
Now addressing this public health concern, geological and health agencies are meeting October 12 to discuss the dangers of erionite, its level of exposure to residents, possible regulations for the mineral and how to properly educate the public.
Concerns about the mineral are being raised because of the deadly effects it had on villagers in Turkey in the 1970s. In some instances, mesothelioma was listed as responsible for between 40 and 50 percent of all deaths in the Turkish villages.
Why the sudden concern after all these years?
The amount of erionite deposits present in the U.S. was unknown for a long time. Evidence did exist about the mineral’s presence, yet it was largely overlooked. In fact, many environmental officials and residents were not familiar with the word ‘erionite’ until recently.
Now that deposits have been found in a dozen states, people are starting to pay attention. Environmental officials will use the meeting as an opportunity to educate each other and define what the risks really are.
“We need to be cautious because there’s clear evidence of disease from mineral fibers,” said Dr. Aubrey Miller, a senior medical advisor at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Based on statistics from the Turkey incidence, there may be reason to worry. Research shows that erionite may be 100 to 800 times more deadly than asbestos. With the level of exposure that is possible throughout the U.S., officials are striving for ways to educate the policymakers and public at large.
“I certainly don’t want to count bodies later,” said Dr. Miller.
Because of the latency period of mesothelioma, which is typically between 20-50 years, the health effects will not be apparent immediately. Researchers and scientists are trying to determine how to minimize the damages.
Dangers of Erionite Exposure
Erionite exposure can occur in a number of ways and is increasingly dangerous as the amount of exposure increases. Like asbestos, the mineral is found in a solid-state and becomes toxic when it is disturbed and its fibers enter the air. Evidence shows that erionite-contained gravel was used in approximately 300 miles of road in N.D. Now officials are worried because commuters, students and traveling residents have used these roads for years, disturbing the materials and releasing the toxic fibers into the air.
The Oct. 12 meeting is located at Rodbell Auditorium at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences facility in North Carolina. Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey are all expected to be present.
Officials are hopeful that the meeting will result in positive changes in public health education and policy, subsequently reducing the risk of mesothelioma and similar diseases.