Toxic Roads and Turkish Cancer

A North Dakota town is facing a health crisis over its playground and other states are concerned over their roads. The city elders used a common gravel in the area for base material, only to learn that it is composed of erionite that can cause lung cancer.

The EPA has been testing erionite and found that it causes cancer in lab animals. It is found in at least a dozen states in the West.

The elders in the area, however, are dismissing the risk to the children regardless of the views of scientists — showing that age is no measure of intellect or judgment.

“I’m 80 years old and it hasn’t killed me yet,” said Milton Johnson, who ranches in the Killdeer Mountains. “They can test my lungs if they want — I’ve been breathing it all my life.”

Gary Jepson, another rancher in the area, called the worries over erionite “one of those sky-is-falling kind of deals.”

There may indeed be difference with the carcinogenic erionite found in Turkey where it has been linked to mesothelioma, an form of lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure.

Erionite found in North Dakota differs slightly than the mineral found in Turkey, where it’s a known carcinogen, Murphy said. Erionite in the state is more calcium based; the mineral in Turkey is sodium based, he said.

Western North Dakota could have “hundreds of miles” of roads paved with gravel containing erionite, Murphy said. Paving them with asphalt would be too costly, state officials say.

Yet, a modicum of concern from some of these citizens would be appreciated given the risk to children and others. If there is a link, this is going to be a very serious problem given the extensive use of this material.

For the full story, here

7 thoughts on “Toxic Roads and Turkish Cancer”

  1. So what you are stating is that if materials in the road are stirred up into the air people breath in these carcinogens and they may cause cancer. This would be a very interesting study and maybe they should consider it soon very soon……

  2. It appears this issue came up elsewhere ie Yucca Mountain
    – nuclear waste project…

    Wednesday, February 11, 2004
    Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

    YUCCA MOUNTAIN: Official to check for toxic dust

    Tailings left over from tunnel construction could pose hazard

    CORRECTION ON 2/12/04
    A story in Wednesday’s Review-Journal about tailings from the tunnel at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project misidentified Gene Griego’s employer. He works for the Los Alamos, N.M., national laboratory. Also, a graphic with the article should have indicated that erionite and mordenite are covered by regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act.


    Click above for enlarged image.

    A Nevada environmental official will inspect volcanic-rock tailings left from construction of the five-mile tunnel at Yucca Mountain to see if the pile poses a blowing dust hazard at the planned nuclear waste burial site, the state’s Environmental Protection Division chief said Tuesday.

    His decision came after the Review-Journal raised questions about the tailings to state and federal authorities in the aftermath of allegations last month about toxic dust inside the tunnel by former Yucca Mountain Project workers. They blame their lung ailments on inhaling cancer-causing mineral fibers while a Department of Energy contractor, Kiewit Construction, bored the 25-foot-diameter tunnel between 1994 and 1997.

    “We will go out and take a look to see if it’s a dust problem,” Environmental Protection Division Administrator Allen Biaggi said in a telephone interview from Carson City.

    “I don’t know how these materials have been managed,” he said about the pile of lavender-colored rock fragments near the tunnel’s north portal area, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

    A spokesman for DOE’s Office of Repository Development, Allen Benson, said his agency has not been contacted by the state about the inspection.

    Benson declined further comment other than to note that the muck pile is not considered waste rock by the DOE because it could be used later to backfill the tunnel if a repository is built and closed after being loaded with 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and highly radioactive defense waste.

    Classifying the tailings as waste rock could make it subject to federal hazardous waste laws.

    State Nuclear Projects Agency Executive Director Bob Loux, a critic of the federal nuclear waste disposal effort, said, “Clearly anything that is an environmental or public health-and-safety concern has to be addressed.

    “If the federal government isn’t going to do it, the state will probably have to step in and begin regulating,” he said.

    Loux predicted the project will face massive environmental and safety problems if the government is allowed to proceed with construction of 155 miles of tunnels for entombing nuclear waste by the end of the decade.

    “In the long run, the entire future tunneling effort will result in a lot of workers in the tunnel who will be exposed to life-threatening minerals as well as others if this is put in the open air,” he said.

    Loux said he foresees “enormous legal problems” in the near term should worker complaints mount.

    Meanwhile, Biaggi, the state Environmental Protection Division administrator, said an inspector from the division’s Las Vegas office will visit the site “before the end of this week” and focus on fugitive emissions of inhalable dust particles under the Clean Air Act.

    “We’ll look for potential sources of dust from the material and look at what process this came from,” he said.

    The division has no authority to inspect the tunnel or ventilation systems inside buildings at the site that stand between the north tunnel entrance and the muck pile several hundred yards east of the entrance.

    Although the division has authority delegated by the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act outside the mountain, the EPA itself administers the Toxic Substances Control Act which covers at least two fibrous zeolite minerals found in the mountain, erionite and mordenite.

    Of key concern is erionite, a known carcinogen that scientists from the Los Alamos, N.M. national laboratory found in three boreholes at Yucca Mountain, according to a report they wrote in 1989, five years before the tunneling operation began.

    Last week, EPA officials in San Francisco had indicated that the tailings might be exempt under what is called the Bevill exclusion within the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous waste regulations. The state division oversees the act in Nevada, which covers mining and other activities that involve potentially hazardous materials.

    But in an e-mail Tuesday, Cheryl Nelson, senior regulatory advisor for the EPA’s San Francisco regional office, which oversees Nevada, wrote, “If the rock in question was from a tunnelling operation but didn’t produce any ore, then `no,’ the exclusion wouldn’t apply to the excavated rock.”

    The hazardous waste regulations would then “only apply to the rock if the rock were discarded/disposed and if the rock exhibited a hazardous characteristic,” according to Nelson’s e-mail to the Review-Journal.

    But in general, the “hazardous characteristic” refers to toxic metals like lead or chromium that could leach from tailings and contaminate groundwater layers.

    One former tunnel supervisor, Gene Griego, 52, of North Las Vegas, claims he and others contracted chronic diseases from working inside the Yucca Mountain tunnel where he said they inhaled fibrous silicate-laced minerals, including erionite, which scars lung tissues and can cause a fatal cancer, mesothelioma.

    Until 1996, tunnel workers wore painters masks to curb dust inhalation. After that, until the tunnel was completed a year later, DOE stepped up enforcement of protective gear requirements, making them wear respirators that Griego said were designed to stop asbestos particles but not the smaller-diameter erionite fibers.

    Last month, DOE officials acknowledged that some of the more than 1,200 project scientists, technicians and tunnel workers might have been exposed to fibrous, silica dust and said they would offer them free silicosis screenings.
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  3. Fuji-san:

    Thanks for the link. Indeed, it would be relevant in any later litigation.

  4. Does it matter that erionite is regulated in the U.S.? Arguably the elders were engaged in an ultrahazardous activity. Does ignorance save them from a potential strict liability claim?

    Erionite “is considered so hazardous that the EPA requires any one who intends to manufacture, import or process any article containing erionite to notify the E.P.A. 90 days in advance.”


  5. I suggest ND patent “Erionite” sparkling wine for elders and give the mob some real competition.

  6. I am betting that we shall again see proof of the informal legal maxim of the plaintiff’s bar that behind every multi-million dollar verdict is an ignorant defendant, or an arrogant defense lawyer. To put kids at risk for mesothelioma is worse than ignorant, as most juries are likely anxious to remind this so-called “elder.”

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