New Zealand Scientists Warn of Mesothelioma Risk from Construction Projects

The city of Auckland in New Zealand is experiencing unprecedented economic expansion, but the new construction going on to accommodate that growth may be putting the population at risk for malignant mesothelioma. A recent article in the New Zealand Medical Journal has reported that the volcanic bedrock under the city contains erionite, an asbestos-like mineral that – when inhaled – may cause the rare and fatal form of cancer.

Construction of New Tunnel Creating Significant Dust That May Lead to Mesothelioma

Workers are excavating volcanic rock to build a tunnel that will connect existing train lines and platforms beneath the Britomart Train Station, and this has raised concerns from the paper’s authors that construction workers and those in the vicinity of the project may be at risk for malignant mesothelioma. They worry that dust raised by the work will be filled with a potentially carcinogenic material.  

According to University of Auckland associate professor Martin Brook, the rock bed under the train station may contain erionite, a mineral made from volcanic ash that eventually forms a fibrous rock much like asbestos. Breathing in erionite’s dust and particles creates an effect similar to that of asbestos, and speaking of the need to determine whether the toxic substance is present and to study its impact further, Brook said, “Currently there are no international or New Zealand occupational exposure limits or standard low-cost field sampling and analytical methods for erionite.”

Previous Studies Reveal Increased Rates of Mesothelioma Where Erionite is Disturbed

Though the University of Auckland scientists have not definitively stated that erionite causes mesothelioma, they point to previous studies showing that in locales where erionite has been disturbed, malignant mesothelioma rates have increased decades later. Associate professor and co-author of the study Jennifer Salmond said, “This lag between dose and response makes it very difficult to know when, where, or how much erionite people might have been exposed to prior to getting ill.”

To date the group has indicated that construction workers and quarry workers are most at risk, and they are urging further study to determine whether erionite is present in areas where construction is planned. “In the Auckland region we need to know where this mineral is and how much is present in soils and air before we can quantify the risk it presents to both occupational and public health.”

In the United States, most cases of mesothelioma are caused by asbestos-contaminated products for which appropriate protection and warnings were not provided. For information on resources available to mesothelioma victims, contact the Patient Advocates at at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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