A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that 300 miles of roads as well as schoolyards, playgrounds and baseball fields in Dunn County, North Dakota have been surfaced with the asbestos-like erionite — a mineral that has been associated with malignant meosthelioma (MM) in Turkish villages.
The authors conclude:
Airborne erionite concentrations measured in North Dakota (ND) along roadsides, indoors, and inside vehicles, including school buses, equaled or exceeded concentrations in Boyali [Turkey], where 6.25% of all deaths are caused by MM. With the exception of outdoor samples along roadsides, ND concentrations were lower than those measured in Turkish villages with MM mortality ranging from 20 to 50%. The physical and chemical properties of erionite from Turkey and ND are very similar and they showed identical biological activities. Considering the known 30- to 60-y latency for MM development, there is reason for concern for increased risk in ND in the future.
As erionite has been used in North Dakota (and perhaps South Dakota) roads for at least 30 years, residents are on the cusp of the latency curve (if one actually exists). There is also a strong genetic component in Turkey helping to raise the MM incidence rate to between 0.001 to 0.01. In the US, MM incidence is about 0.000001. In North Dakota the rate is 0.000012, within the range of states with higher asbestos exposures.
To the researchers dismay,
Area residents in ND have expressed skepticism about the potential for health effects from erionite exposures. Similar skepticism prevailed in the first half of the past century about asbestos and it was only when the number of asbestos-related deaths increased to the magnitude of an epidemic that strict preventive measures were implemented. We hope that the lessons learned from such experiences will help to prevent a possible new wave of MM in the United States that could be caused by erionite. [Footnotes omitted]