Cancer-causing dust released by earthworks

A Safety News article.

Tiny needle-like fibres that can become airborne if bedrock is disturbed has the potential to cause an asbestos-type disease, scientists warn.

The fibres come from a mineral called erionite which originates in silica-rich volcanic rock commonly found in many parts of the world and especially throughout the Auckland region. Once disturbed – during construction projects for example – dust containing erionite can become airborne and, if inhaled, potentially cause malignant mesothelioma, a disease more usually associated with exposure to asbestos.

Former Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser Sir Peter Gluckman reported in 2015 that erionite was a more potent carcinogen than asbestos. New Zealand’s rate of malignant mesothelioma is high by international standards but no-one knows exactly why.

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