Erionite: The New Asbestos

Our Chicago personal injury attorneys were concerned to hear that a recent advisory published by Federal health officials is advocating worker safety after it was discovered that a number of workers may have been exposed to erionite, a cancer-causing mineral similar to asbestos, while on the job.

Erionite is a naturally-occurring mineral that is found in volcanic ash that has been altered by weather and ground water. Similarly to asbestos, it does not pose a risk until moved, which causes the microscopic fibers to waft into the air.

According to a recent report by MSNBC, erionite is not currently regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As per MSNBC‘s report, authorities on behalf of the EPA have known for a long time that erionite is widespread in a number of states, but have not expended resources to investigate potential risks, because of an apparent belief that there was little chance of human exposure to the mineral. Nevertheless, erionite particles pose similar risks to asbestos exposure, and research suggests that erionite is potentially more dangerous than asbestos.

In fact, the best evidence of the risks of exposure to erionite is a number of devastating cases that were first reported in Turkey in the 1970s. In villages abundant with erionite, some 40-50 percent of all deaths were caused by mesothelioma, as a result of erionite exposure. MSNBC reports that animal studies have shown erionite to be 100 to 800 times more apt to cause cancer than asbestos and, according to a scientific paper, “almost certainly the most toxic naturally occurring fibrous mineral known.”

Mesothelioma, in addition to being a disease caused by exposure to erionite, is a rare form of cancer that forms in the protective lining of the body’s organs. It most commonly manifests in the outer lining of the lungs and internal chest wall, but may occur on any of the body’s organs covered by the protective lining.

Symptoms of mesothelioma generally do not present until twenty to fifty years after exposure to either asbestos or erionite. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fluid between the lung and the chest wall, chest pain, and weight loss. Despite developments in cancer treatment, once the disease has manifested, the patient’s prognosis is poor.

At this point, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has put together a number of ideas to help prevent exposure to erionite at the workplace. Federal health and environmental agencies are holding workshops in order to educate the public, while erionite remains unregulated. Additionally, federal officials have suggested employee training for workers in potentially dangerous work areas, and implementing methods to ascertain whether erionite is present before beginning work. Further recommendations included wetting soil and rock to reduce dust; using respirators and other protective equipment; showering and changing clothes before leaving work; and ensuring work clothes and boots are left at work to prevent hazardous fibers from being brought home.

Exposure to erionite is potentially life threatening. Our Illinois personal injury attorneys know that there are special laws in place to protect employees from dangerous work environments, and urge employers to take precautions to prevent workers’ exposure to erionite.

Under Illinois personal injury law, employers are responsible for maintaining a safe, hazard-free work environment. If they fail to do so and employees suffer as a result, the employer may be held legally responsible for those injuries.

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