Volunteers Sought for Study on Erionite Dust

Those living in the western half of North Dakota were asked to participate in a study to examine the effects of erionite on the lungs. Erionite is a naturally occurring mineral that is similar in structure to asbestos. Health officials with the state and the Environmental Protection Agency wanted to see if erionite has the same detrimental effects on the body as asbestos, a known carcinogen.
Like asbestos, erionite can collect in the lungs of those exposed to it for years. As time progresses, this build-up can cause health problems, as evidenced by studies done in other countries. Dunn, Slope, and Stark counties were the subject of the study since these are the main mining locations in North Dakota for erionite, but gravel made from the mineral was used to pave the roads in the western half of the state for decades. This makes the erionite levels in North Dakota the highest in the United States. On the other side of the world, in Turkey, mesothelioma has been linked to exposure to erionite, the same way that it is linked to asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure, often takes up to 30-40 years to manifest.  Like many other diseases, it is important to catch the disease in its early stages.  The 2009 study was to be conducted by scientists working at the University of Cincinnati and was scheduled to begin and end in 2009. During the course of the study, 50 volunteers who had been exposed for 20 years or more would undergo questionnaires about their occupation and lifestyle. They would then have CT scans and chest X-rays taken at a clinic in Dickinson, North Dakota, which would then be sent to the researchers at the University of Cincinnati. The state geologist, Ed Murphy, noted that the erionite was slightly different from the carcinogenic form found in Turkey, but they were similar enough in size and composition to warrant the University of Cincinnati study.