Researchers fear North Dakota erionite will lead to mesothelioma epidemic, as it did in Turkey

Michele Carbone of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center (which recently received $3.6 million from an anonymous donor, to support mesothelioma research) has spent much of his career working with three mesothelioma-stricken towns in Turkey.

Years of research led the doctor and his team to the conclusion that erionite in rocks used to build villagers’ homes was the cause of the towns’ astounding mesothelioma mortality ratesEd Yong provides the following figures to demonstrate the abnormality of the Turkish communities’ plight:

“Since the 1970s, this rare type of cancer has been responsible for almost half of all the deaths in three villages – Tuzkoy, Karain and Sarihidir. For comparison, in 2008, the disease only accounted for 0.4% of deaths in the UK.”

Now Dr. Carbone is worried about people in towns nowhere near Honolulu or Karain. In Dunn County, North Dakota, there is naturally-occurring erionite in the gravel paving over 300 miles of road. Carbone and fellow researchers had cause for concern, andtheir findings in a recent study validate those concerns:

“Airborne erionite concentrations measured in ND along roadsides, indoors, and inside vehicles, including school buses, equaled or exceeded concentrations in Boyali [an erionite-rich town in Turkey], where 6.25% of all deaths are caused by MM [malignant mesothelioma].”

However, there was some good news:

“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%.” This does not mean that North Dakotans should assume they are safe, however—the physical and chemical properties of erionite from Turkey and ND are “very similar, and they showed identical biological activities.”

Dr. Carbone writes, “We hope that the lessons learned from such experiences will help to prevent a possible new wave of [malignant mesothelioma] in the United States that could be caused by erionite.”

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