Asbestos and zeolites are silicate-based minerals, linked inextricably via paradoxical similarities and differences which have emanated from different geological epochs. Both have been employed in the service of humanity through millennia: asbestos, for its "inextinguishable"quality of being an insulator against heat and fire; zeolite, a "boiling stone"with its volcanic and marine sedimentary rock origins, for its propensity to adsorb water and remove metals and toxins. Serious adverse health effects observed in asbestos miners as long ago as the 1st Century AD did not halt the rising popularity of asbestos. As the miracle material of the 1900s, asbestos production and consumption exploded, culminating in its ubiquity in ships, vehicles, homes, commercial buildings, and over 3000 different industrial and household products. Through the 1940s and 1950s, epidemiological studies concluded that asbestos was a likely cause of asbestosis, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma, and it is now banned in many but far from all countries. The long latency between exposure to asbestos and the occurrence of cancer has obscured the deadly consequences of asbestos exposure for centuries. Even today, a considerable part of the world population is insufficiently aware of the dangers of asbestos, and millions of tons of this carcinogen continue to be mined and used worldwide. Zeolites, both natural and synthetic, are microporous aluminosilicate minerals commonly used in a myriad of processes, in the petrochemical industry, in domestic appliances and cleaning agents, as commercial adsorbents and exchangers for toxins and pollutants, and as catalysts. Zeolites are found in agriculture, veterinary science, and human health. More recently, new materials such as carbon nanotubes are being employed in materials requiring durability and thermal and electrical conductivity, yet nanotubes are now joining the ranks of more established particulates such as asbestos and silica, in causing human disease. In this review, we compare and contrast the similarities and differences of these two groups of silicate minerals and their waxing and waning use in the employ of humanity.
- lung cancer