Abstract

Erionite, a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that belongs to the zeolite group of hydrated aluminosilicates, has been designated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a Group 1 Carcinogen on the basis of mesothelioma, a disease also resulting from the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Significant outcrops of fibrous erionite have been reported in California, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, and other states. For geologists and industrial hygienists dealing with mining, construction, or various aspects of community protection, it is vital to understand the basics of detecting and handling erionite fibers, since it is similarly fibrous to asbestos and can cause similar disease. However, there are many fibrous zeolites, and discerning erionite from these other minerals requires modifications to the current asbestos analysis methods. Without these modifications, identification and quantification are questionable and could increase the likelihood of both false negatives and false positives. There is currently no published method specific to erionite analysis; without guidance standards, each laboratory has approached erionite analysis independently. With a few small but significant changes to asbestos analysis methodologies, we developed a reproducible analytical procedure for rapid identification of erionite fibers in air, bulk, and soil samples by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Using specialized preparation techniques, energy dispersive Spectrometry (EDS) calibrations, and a liquid nitrogen cryo-holder (cold stage), we were able to overcome the difficulties associated with erionite analysis. By incorporating these changes, commercial analytical laboratories can contribute reliable data to air-exposure studies and characterization guidelines, which may help in determining regulations and further understanding the health risks of erionite.

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