In the United States, mesothelioma is very strongly associated with asbestos, and rightly so: asbestos exposure has long been proven to be one of the leading causes of the deadly disease. And because asbestos products were so widely used for so long in so many industries, millions of people in Illinois and throughout the country continue to suffer as a result of their unknowing exposure to asbestos.
However, the majority of Americans are unaware of erionite, another mineral that has been proven to cause mesothelioma at a much higher rate than asbestos. In recent animal studies, erionite was shown to be between 100 and 800 times more carcinogenic than asbestos.
Erionite is a naturally occurring element that exists in soil and stone. It is generally found where volcanic ash and rock have been weathered by alkaline water, and like asbestos, it is harmless until it is disturbed and the mineral fibers take to the air. To date, erionite has been found in more than a dozen states in the western United States, where it has almost certainly been disturbed during construction products.
For example, during a recent road construction project in rural North Dakota, construction crews used erionite-tainted gravel to cover hundreds of miles of unpaved roads. Now, school buses are among the many vehicles that travel along these roads every day, kicking up dust and, most likely, deadly erionite fibers.
Despite the massive danger to both workers and citizens, erionite remains completely unregulated in the United States. In fact, many landowners and developers have no idea that it even exists. To remedy this, scientists and government officials are working together to come up with a federal response, and will hopefully begin to regulate this deadly mineral sooner rather than later.
Source: MSNBC, “Health concerns grow over little-known mineral,” Myron Levin, Oct. 7, 2011