5 of the Most Lethal Minerals on the Planet

January 19, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

An emerald green gemstone
Photo credit: Rob Lavinsky/ (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Beautiful, but deadly!

Below is a list of some of the most lethal, naturally occurring minerals found on Earth.  Although many of these minerals are extremely beautiful, their looks are very deceiving.  Just holding some of these objects could make you incredibly sick!


A bright blue cluster of crystals
photo credit: Parent Géry/Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Beautiful blue chalcanthite crystals are composed of copper, sulfur, other elements, and water.  Since this mineral contains water, it is very water soluble and can be absorbed in large quantities by any plant, animal or human — weakening and then killing it by shutting down essential body processes.

Chalcanthite is one mineral that can be easily made in the lab or with a home chemistry set, but it should never be tasted to test for salt content because an extremely serious overdose of copper could occur.  Releasing small amounts of the blue mineral has killed entire ponds of algae and can have terrible environmental effects.


An orange yellow, opaque mineral
photo credit: Leon Hupperichs/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hutchinsonite was named after John Hutchinson, a mineralogist from Cambridge University, and it is found in the mountain regions of Europe.  It is a greasy metal, made predominantly of thallium, similar to lead, but it is even more deadly.  This mineral is a lethal mixture of thallium, lead, and arsenic.

The effects of exposure to thallium include loss of hair, serious illness through skin contact, and even death.


An emerald green gemstone
photo credit: Rob Lavinsky/ (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Torbernite is a vivid green, prism-shaped crystal formed as secondary deposits in granite rocks, and is composed partially of uranium.  Torbernite forms though a reaction between phosphorus, copper, water, and uranium.

Because it is so beautiful, many mineral collectors have taken a sample for their collection.  Not a good idea — uranium releases lethal radon gas capable of causing lung cancer.  

Although torbernite can occur it granite, it is highly unlikely that the stone countertops in many kitchens across the globe contain the mineral.


A white translucent gemstone, growing in cylinders
photo credit: Matteo Chinellato/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Erionite is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral found in volcanic ash that has been altered by weathering and groundwater.  It belongs to a group of minerals called zeolites.

Erionite looks a lot like asbestos, and harms humans in nearly the same way — it causes mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer.  And just like asbestos, erionite was primarily causing mesothelioma in certain industries.  Once they effects were understood — predominantly cancer — they stopped mining the minerals in the 1980s.  So if you come across it somehow, do not take it home!


A blood red gemstone
photo credit: JJ Harrison/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cinnabar is the single most toxic material to handle on Earth.  It forms near volcanoes and sulfur deposits and it can release pure mercury if disturbed or heated.  When heated, this element will produce methylmercury and dimethylmercury, two toxic compounds that cause irreparable harm.

Cinnabar can cause tremors, loss of sensation in the body, and death, as it is absorbed through the respiratory tract and skin.  Back in the 1700s, those sent to work in the Spanish mines containing cinnabar considered it a death sentence.  However, cinnabar was widely used in Chinese history for ornamental food dishes and carvings, and it was believed to have healing powers so it was prescribed for certain conditions.  Crazy!

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