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Published April 02 2008

EPA talks about erionite in Killdeer

KILLDEER — Several individuals from Killdeer and the surrounding area were at Killdeer High School on Tuesday to discuss potential issues resulting from the discovery of the mineral erionite in the area.

North Dakota Department of Health employees and officials from the Environmental Protection Association updated those in attendance on their ongoing studies concerning the mineral.

“There is enough evidence that erionite may pose a health threat and we need to evaluate what level of threat,” On-Scene Coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Steve Way said.

So far there has been no conclusive link found in the Killdeer area linking erionite exposure to the potential health effects that have been theorized, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Way pointed out that even if links haven’t been found, it doesn’t mean they aren’t present and that they will continue their studies.

Mesothelioma has resulted from erionite exposure in places such as the country of Turkey and Libby, Mont., but the make-up of the erionite found in the Killdeer Mountains may not cause a health risk.

“We’re looking at whether or not the conditions here pose the same kind of health risks that exist in Turkey, particularly and that’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Way said. “We were asked to help and we’re doing our job.”

First discovered in Dunn County gravel pits in October 2006, the mineral has since been found in pits located in Stark and Slope counties.

Since the discovery, EPA scientists have been busy analyzing samples from the Killdeer Mountains to see what kind of health risk the erionite in the area poses.

Joyce Ackerman, on-scene coordinator for the EPA, and her team also conducted activity tests in the area where they measured the potential effect of prolonged exposure.

“The numbers don’t mean a thing until you look at how much a person is getting exposed to it,” Ackerman said.

Scott Radig, a representative of the North Dakota Department of Health presented the NDDH’s recommendations for citizens to lower their risk before the study is finished, but stressed, “These recommendations are precautions.”

Those included not using gravel from the exclusion zones in Dunn, Slope and Stark counties and testing gravel prior to use.

Further testing for the study will include contacting physicians to see if there is a link to exposure and illnesses, lung X-rays of individuals who are exposed to erionite, additional bulk sampling and additional activity sampling.

“The best way to look at it is by looking at people that have had long-term exposure,” Way said. “Basically, more studies must be done.”