There’s nothing we humans love more than doing things that will probably kill us. Many of us operate while only thinking about the short term. Asbestos? Burning through fossil fuels? Consuming terrible chemical compounds? Meh.
Here are a few substances we were so gung-ho about mining, even though they were terrible for our health or society. Way to go, society! Warning: Science ahead.
Cinnanbar, also known as mercury sulphide, was mined for mercury since the very earliest human civilizations. It actually used to be the only way for ancient humans to get mercury, which was used as coloring, and was a vital component in early scientific equipment like thermometers and barometers. Not to mention mercury is vital for a variety of heavy industrial processes.
However when this mineral oxidizes is produces methyl mercury, and dimethyl mercury. These are both extremely toxic compounds that can cause extreme harm to the nervous system, especially in children. Luckily the use of cinnabar has been phased out in most industries.
Despite how beautiful fluorite looks, it can be just as deadly. Fluorite contains fluorine, which is a soluble mineral that loves to leech its way into ground water. If your body absorbs fluorine, you can come down with skeletal fluorosis. This disease weakens the joints and bones of the body. It’s a common condition in parts of rural China and India from people drinking contaminated water.
You’ve definitely heard of quartz before. It’s one of the most common minerals in Earth’s crust, and it’s used for a ton of different things. However if your inhale ground up quartz, things can go bad for you real quick. You can contract silicosis (a disease that swells the lungs and makes breathing very difficult), or even lung cancer.
This pretty little rock is most likely where the phosphorous in your fertilizer and the fluoride in your tap water came from. However direct exposure to this particular mineral when it’s not processed down can be very very bad. Direct exposure to hydroxyapatite can actually deposit phosphate minerals on your heart valves. In case you’re unsure, that’s not a good thing.
You probably know crocidolite better as blue asbestos. After discovering how fire resistant, and strong crocidolite was, it was widely used as a building material in throughout the 1900’s.
However in 1964 a link was established between asbestos and deadly mesothelioma. Not long after the market for asbestos disappeared, and the United States has been removing asbestos from its buildings ever since.
Just because something comes from the Earth, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Lesson learned.