Though less familiar and common than asbestos minerals, erionite is another naturally occurring carcinogen that, through prolonged and repeated exposure, can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer and other deadly diseases. Erionite exposure is mainly environmental, a drastic difference from asbestos exposure which is typically occupationally related. Individuals who contracted mesothelioma from erionite exposure usually lived near significant deposits of the mineral.
Through laboratory tests in animals, erionite exposure has shown to correlate with a higher risk of developing lung-related cancers like mesothelioma than any other mineral tested, including asbestos. Further, mesothelioma develops with less exposure to erionite than asbestos.
Erionite is an asbestiform, a naturally occurring highly fibrous volcanic mineral with similar properties of asbestos minerals. Erionite is a zeolite mineral, where as asbestos is either serpentine or amphibole. Unlike asbestos minerals, erionite is not regulated in the United States, and does not have the same expansive and various commercial applications as asbestos.
Typically, trace amounts of erionite have been found in other zeolite products like water softener or water purification systems. However, exposure to erionite comes from mining other zeolites or through natural, environmental exposure. Trace amounts in zeolite products may lead to low-levels of exposure, though it is unknown whether these products can lead to mesothelioma.
Generally, asbestos exposure is occupationally related, where individuals are intimately involved in the manufacturing, handling or installation of asbestos products. Through repeated inhalation of asbestos particles, mesothelioma cancer and other asbestos cancers develop. However, with erionite, the majority of exposure is environmentally related, where individuals live near or around erionite deposits.
Worldwide, there are known erionite deposits in Germany, New Zealand, Russia, Japan, Kenya, Turkey and Italy. In the United States, most of the erionite deposits are located in the West, mainly in Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, California, Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah.
Higher Rates of Mesothelioma
Tuzkoy, a small village in Turkey, has an unusually high rate of environmentally related malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and other lung diseases. With an excessive concentration of erionite deposits in the areas surrounding Tuzkoy, exposure results from inhalation of the fibrous minerals. The erionite particles are airborne, and occur naturally in the surrounding air and dust.
Further, a small number of villagers have used erionite blocks as cool storage for food. Again, like the deposits, exposure to erionite particles may attribute to the storage blocks. However, the majority of mesothelioma cases in Tuzkoy resulted from the deposits rather than the storage blocks.
This “Cancer City” has an alarmingly high rate of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma related deaths, nearly seventy-times of the average yearly mortalities. Studies have shown that the adjacent erionite deposits are to blame.
Currently, studies are underway in North Dakota among residents living near erionite deposits on the possible adverse health effects of the exposure. In comparison to asbestos, little is known about erionite exposure, and many worldwide health organizations are aggressively studying the health effects of the mineral. As in Tuzkoy, there could be other pockets near erionite deposits that may also have extremely high rates of mesothelioma cancer.
As a naturally occurring carcinogen, erionite affects individuals similarly as asbestos. Through prolonged exposure and inhalation, erionite particles settle specifically into the lungs or generally in the mesothelium, the lining of internal organs. Eventually, the embedded erionite particles spur carcinogenesis or the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells.
In addition, the incubation period of erionite in the lungs and mesothelium is similar to that of asbestos – ranging from ten to twenty years. Symptoms of mesothelioma caused by erionite are similar to asbestos, including shortness of breath, pain in the chest wall and weight loss.
Further, studies have shown that a smaller level of erionite exposure has a higher risk of developing cancer than asbestos minerals. Essentially, it takes a much smaller amount of inhaled erionite particles to cause cancer than asbestos.
Whether caused by erionite or asbestos, being diagnosed with mesothelioma disease is difficult news to receive. In comparison to asbestos, erionite research is scant but growing. Since establishing the link between erionite exposure and mesothelioma, the scientific and medical fields are conducting further research. The mineral, with negligible commercial applications, is a naturally occurring carcinogen, and in some affected areas, the environmental exposure risks can be higher than occupational risks.Sources
Y. Izzettin Baris and Philippe Grandjean. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Prospective Study of Mesothelioma Mortality in Turkish Villages with Exposure to Fibrous Zeolite. January 26, 2006. Accessed on November 5, 2010.
World Health Organization. WHO Workshop on Mechanisms of Fibre Carcinogenesis and Assessment of Chrysotile Asbestos Substitutes. January 31, 2006. Accessed on November 5, 2010.
David N. Weissman, M.D., Director, Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Testimony. Examination of the Health Effects of Asbestos and Methods of Mitigating Such Impacts: before the Committee on Environment and Public Works, United States Senate. June 12, 2007. Accessed on November 5, 2010.
Lalita D. Palekar, John F. Eyre, Bernard M. Most and David Coffin. Carcinogenesis Journal. Abstract. Metaphase and anaphase analysis of V79 cells exposed to erionite, UICC chrysotile and UICC crocidolite. January 21, 1987. Accessed on November 5, 2010.