North Dakota Gravel Roads may be an Asbestos Danger


Several years ago, a North Dakota state geologist notified the Environmental Protection Agency that a mineral found in the rocks there called erionite may be a carcinogen. This is based on the known carcinogen of erionite in Turkey where it causes mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. While they are the same mineral, subtle differences in them may change the nature of the rock. In Turkey, erionite is more sodium based. In North Dakota, it is more calcium based. One way to figure out if North Dakota’s rocks hold the same kind of danger as Turkey’s is to check those who may have been exposed to it.

The gravel roads in many places of western North Dakota are covered with erionite, which has been mined from the Killdeer Mountains. Anyone who has ever driven up and down gravel roads will tell you the dust can get pretty bad, and that breathing in this dust is inevitable. However, if erionite collects in the lungs, then there is a chance that this asbestos-like material will cause mesothelioma. And, while there have been some people in North Dakota, ten to be exact, who would like to know whether the gravel roads may have exposed them to cancer, it is not enough to do a study on. Scientists say they need at least 50. Volunteers were asked to sign up where they would be sent to the University of Cincinnati, given chest and CT x-rays, and paid $100, but it turns out that many people would rather not find out.

Some seem fatalistic about it. Eric Kehr, who owns the Buckskin Bar & Grill in Killdeer said, “What can anybody do about it anyway? There is no way to blacktop all these gravel roads, so practically speaking, it’s an unsolvable problem.” Since mesothelioma is incurable, he may be right. However, what about those who may think it isn’t right and would like something to be done?

For starters, they can sign up for the study. Some people may prefer to not know that they are sick, which is understandable. However, if you find out that you are suffering from mesothelioma, and there can be a direct link made to the type of gravel used. Then you may begin to ask, did they know about this and for how long?

Because the EPA has been notified, and the agency and state health officials are looking for members for the study, then someone who can do something about it has been made aware. Regardless of how many roads cannot have asphalt added to them, perhaps the next step could be removing erionite. Holding someone accountable for an illness that may have been preventable is not wrong. Even if it keeps others from becoming sick in the future, it’s a good thing. Some people around the Killdeer area think the concern raised is ridiculous. Only time will tell.

Erionite is found in about a dozen states total, but not at the levels it is found in North Dakota. It has also been known to cause cancer in lab rats. However, it is not regulated by the EPA.