Erionite exposure in North Dakota and Turkish villages with mesothelioma

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Aug 16;108(33):13618-23. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1105887108. Epub 2011 Jul 25.


Exposure to erionite, an asbestos-like mineral, causes unprecedented rates of malignant mesothelioma (MM) mortality in some Turkish villages. Erionite deposits are present in at least 12 US states. We investigated whether increased urban development has led to erionite exposure in the United States and after preliminary exploration, focused our studies on Dunn County, North Dakota (ND). In Dunn County, ND, we discovered that over the past three decades, more than 300 miles of roads were surfaced with erionite-containing gravel. To determine potential health implications, we compared erionite from the Turkish villages to that from ND. Our study evaluated airborne point exposure concentrations, examined the physical and chemical properties of erionite, and examined the hallmarks of mesothelial cell transformation in vitro and in vivo. Airborne erionite concentrations measured in ND along roadsides, indoors, and inside vehicles, including school buses, equaled or exceeded concentrations in Boyali, where 6.25% of all deaths are caused by MM. 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%. The physical and chemical properties of erionite from Turkey and ND are very similar and they showed identical biological activities. Considering the known 30- to 60-y latency for MM development, there is reason for concern for increased risk in ND in the future. Our findings indicate that implementation of novel preventive and early detection programs in ND and other erionite-rich areas of the United States, similar to efforts currently being undertaken in Turkey, is warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Asbestos / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Mesothelioma / chemically induced*
  • Mesothelioma / epidemiology
  • Mesothelioma / etiology
  • North Dakota / epidemiology
  • Transportation
  • Turkey / epidemiology
  • United States
  • Zeolites / adverse effects*


  • Air Pollutants
  • erionite
  • Zeolites
  • Asbestos