Dangerous Asbestos-Like Substance Found in Road Gravel May Cause Mesothelioma Cancer

August 8, 2011

Asbestos lawyers at Pintas & Mullins are concerned about a new study confirming the presence of a cancer-causing mineral in the road gravel of several U.S. states. This study was the first-of-its kind, looking at the potential hazards of eronite exposure. Researchers found that the eronite mineral, which is similar to asbestos, is linked to unusually high rates of mesothelioma lung cancer.

The study was released in the July 25, 2011 issue of the Proceedings on the National Academy of Sciences, detailing the serious health risks of eronite exposure. At least twelve states, including Arizona, Nevada, North Dakota, and South Dakota, are known to have eronite-containing rock deposits that are used to produce gravel. However, the study focused primarily on Dunn County, North Dakota, where more than 300 miles of roads contain the dangerous eronite mineral.

Investigators took air samples taken from school bus routes, parking lots, playgrounds, and baseball fields throughout the area and some disturbing revelations were discovered. When eronite fibers are disturbed by human activity such as foot or automobile traffic, they become airborne and produce potentially life-threatening clouds of dust. These asbestos-like fibers become lodged in people's lungs and significantly increase the risk for mesothelioma cancer.

Until recently, it was believed that eronite was not present in the United States and only presented a health risk in Turkey. Mesothelioma death rates in eronite-rich Turkish village are as high as eight percent. Some Turkish residents have even been forced to relocate in order to avoid the danger.

Now that eronite has been found in at least a dozen U.S. states, the risk of mesothelioma lung cancer is even more widespread. The airborne levels of eronite recently found in North Dakota are comparable - or even higher than - the levels found in Turkish roads, mountains, and homes that led to an outbreak of mesothelioma cases. Those who work on eronite-containing roadways and in other industries where occupational exposure to eronite is common may be at greatest risk. The carcinogen can result in serious problems to the lungs and chest area, similar to problems caused by commercial asbestos exposure.

Preventative steps are being taken to avoid potential eronite-related health complications, including recommendations from the North Dakota Department of Health issuing to discontinue the use of gravel-containing eronite. But mesothelioma lung cancer has a long latency period, and it may take 30 to 60 years after exposure before any symptoms are detected. So any measures that are taken now may still not be enough to prevent fatal complications. When eronite fibers are airborne and get into the lungs, cells around them may grow abnormally and eventually lead to mesothelioma. Sadly, once the disease is diagnosed, life expectancy is limited to a couple of years.

Some studies have found that eronite may be even more deadly than asbestos, a known cancer-causing toxic mineral. The potential hazards of eronite exposure are still being examined, and the dangerous substance may be present in even more states than researchers examined as part of their study. Eronite has already been linked to unusually high rates of mesothelioma in Turkey, and it may simply be a matter of time before mesothelioma rates increase in the U.S. as a result of eronite exposure.