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Road Material in N. Dakota May Up Lung Cancer Risk: Study

MONDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to a mineral found on gravel roads in North Dakota may significantly increase the risk of a type of lung cancer called mesothelioma, says a new study.

Erionite, which is often found in volcanic ash that has been altered by weathering and ground water, forms brittle, wool-like fibrous masses in the hollows of rock formations. It looks like transparent, glass-like fibers. Erionite has similar properties to asbestos, which has been linked with mesothelioma.

Deposits of erionite are located in a number of states, including California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona and Nevada. Over the last 30 years, erionite-containing gravel has been used on more than 300 miles of roads in North Dakota.

Previous research has associated erionite exposure with an increased incidence of mesothelioma in some parts of Turkey. In this new study, researchers compared air samples, microchemistry, tissue samples and other data from North Dakota with data from affected areas in Turkey.

"Based on the results of our study and considering the known latency period for lung disease, there is concern for increased risk of mesothelioma for exposed residents of North Dakota," lead author Dr. Michele Carbone, director of thoracic oncology at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Honolulu, said in an American Society for Radiation Oncology news release.

"Precautionary measures should be undertaken to reduce exposure of erionite that is occurring in North Dakota and may be occurring in other areas of the U.S. where large deposits of erionite are present" and could be hazardous if disturbed, she said. "Our findings provide an opportunity to implement novel preventive and early detection programs in the U.S., similar to what has been done in Turkey," she concluded.

The study was presented at a multidisciplinary thoracic cancer symposium in Chicago. Findings presented at a meeting should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about mesothelioma.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Society for Radiation Oncology, news release, Dec. 9, 2010

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