Is Erionite the New Asbestos?

​By Ed Rutkowski

Washington State Convention Center, Seattle, Wash. (June 7, 2017)—In the 1970s, an epidemic of malignant mesothelioma decimated the populations of several villages in central Turkey. Subsequent investigations linked the disease to exposure to erionite, a naturally occurring fibrous mineral usually found in volcanic ash. In some villages nearly 50 percent of deaths were attributed to mesothelioma.

At AIHce EXP 2017 on Wednesday, June 7, Andrey Korchevskiy, director of research and development at an industrial hygiene consultancy in Colorado, and Dr. Amin Elamin, professor of medicine at the University of South Florida, presented preliminary findings suggesting that erionite is significantly more potent than asbestos, which is also known to cause mesothelioma.

“Some people call [erionite] the most toxic mineral on earth,” Korchevskiy said.

Inhalation exposure to asbestos or erionite fibers can lead to mesothelioma, a thickening of the pleural lining of the lung, which gradually diminishes the lung’s ability to expand. People suffering from mesothelioma experience difficulty breathing, among other symptoms. While mesothelioma is usually an occupational disease, Elamin explained that the severity of the outbreak in the Turkish villages stemmed from the presence of erionite in the materials villagers used to build their homes.

“Most of the time, mesothelioma patients are in their seventies,” Elamin said, while in the villages, “people were getting mesothelioma in their thirties. They were getting exposed every day.”

According to one study, erionite exposure presents a greater risk than asbestos of causing pleural thickening, Elamin said.

Korchevskiy said that data from a study conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer suggests that erionite “seems to be eight times more potent than crocidolite and 100 times more potent than Quebec chrysotile.” Crocidolite and chrysotile are two forms of asbestos.

No regulations or consensus exist for erionite, and there are no occupational exposure limits for airborne erionite fibers, Korchevskiy said. OSHA’s permissible exposure limit for airborne asbestos is 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter of air.

Ed Rutkowski is editor in chief of The Synergist. He can be reached at (703) 846-0734.

View more Synergist coverage of the conference on the AIHce Daily page.