Road Gravel Mineral May Have Mesothelioma Link

Researchers say that an asbestos-like substance found in road gravel used in at least 12 states, appears to be linked to an increased risk of mesothelioma lung cancer

According to a study published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the mineral known as erionite, which is used in some road gravel, may soon lead to increased mesothelioma cases throughout the United States.

The mineral has already been linked to mesothelioma death rates as high as 8% in some villages in Turkey, where it is also used in roads.

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Mesothelioma Lawsuits

Exposure to asbestos can cause the development of mesothelioma. Lawsuits have been filed nationwide against asbestos manufacturers.

Researchers indicate the long latency period with mesothelioma, which can develop decades after exposure, could result in a sharp rise in cases of the fatal lung cancer in coming years. The study focused on North Dakota roads and found that both the mineral itself and the levels of it in the air were similar to those around afflicted Turkish villages.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer found in the lining of the chest and lungs, which was previously only known to occur as a result of exposure to asbestos. The disease is often not discovered until decades after exposure, leading to a limited life expectancy after a mesothelioma diagnosis.

According to the researchers, erionite is similar to asbestos and fibers of it are often kicked up by human activity, such as driving down a gravel road. The fibers then can become lodged in the lungs, causing cells around them to grow abnormally and eventually lead to the development of mesothelioma. In addition to conducting air samples, the researchers tested erionite on mice and confirmed it caused lung damage similar to asbestos exposure.

The researchers found 300 miles of road in Dunne County, North Dakota were surfaced with gravel containing erionite over the last 30 years. It is also in use on roads in 12 other states, including Arizona, California Nevada and Oregon. The researchers said that, until recently, erionite was only believed to be found in Turkey.

Photo Courtesy of Ziggy_Mo via Flickr by CC 2.0

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