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Question:What are the health effects related to fine particles of calcium carbonate?

stevie is asking a question about air-quality: Subscribe to answer questions on this topic

stevie asked on May 10, 2017 20:11
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What I want to do or know:

I'm looking for some more information or documentation about calcium carbonate as it relates to human health, specifically: - the heart and - other health risks of fine calcium particles.

health particles calcium-carbonate calcium ultrafine

question:air-quality question:pm question:general question:calcium question:health-effects question:health question:ultrafine


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7 Answers

Cheryl Holzmeyer wrote in to my email to the lists:

I don't know if this is too general, but in case it's relevant (calcium carbonate is listed in table 2.1 on pg. 8): http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/78657/E88189.pdf

Wig Zamore wrote in today as well, to add:

A quick check of PubMed yields two abstracts that may be of interest and are pasted in below. Basically, any very heavy inhaltion of particles is likely to be damaging but calcium carbonate and its trace elements are generally less toxic than many other forms of particulates, especially those with transition metals or organic toxins such as PAhs or substituted PAHs. - Cheers, Wig

Wig is well known around Somerville, where I live (and greater Boston!), but for some context, see this page: http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/environmental-health-policy-institute/wig-zamore.html

He enclosed in his email:

1. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2017 Feb;175(2):466-474. doi: 10.1007/s12011-016-0769-1. Epub 2016 Jun 10.

Trace Elemental Characterization of Chalk Dust and Their Associated Health Risk Assessment.

Maruthi YA(1), Ramprasad S(2), Lakshmana Das N(3).

Author information: (1)Department of Environmental Studies, GITAM Institute of Science, GITAM University, Visakhapatnam, AP, India. ymjournal2014@gmail.com. (2)Department of Environmental Studies, GITAM Institute of Science, GITAM University, Visakhapatnam, AP, India. (3)Department of Physics, GITAM Institute of Science, GITAM University, Visakhapatnam, AP, India.

It is evident that chalk produces dust on use, i.e., particulate matter, which will alter the air quality of classrooms and can cause health hazards in teachers. The possible causes for health effects of chalk dust on teachers are still unclear. Hence, the aim of this study is to estimate the concentration of trace elements (Al, Cr, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Si, Pb) in chalk dust collected from classrooms by using ICP-MS. Both suspended and settled chalk dust was collected from selected classrooms. Suspended chalk dust was collected with PM2.5 filter paper using fine dust sampler, and settled chalk dust was collected by placing petriplates at a distance of 3 m from the board for a duration period of 30 min. Scanning electron microscopy images of chalk dust were taken up. Potential health risk analysis was also assessed. Results showed that Al, Fe, and Mn are in higher concentration (>1000 ?g kg(-1)) in both settled and suspended chalk dust. Cr, Mn, Fe, Co, and Ni were beyond the minimal risk levels in both settled and suspended chalk dust. There are no minimal risk levels for the elements Al, Si, and Pb. The concentration of trace elements in suspended chalk dust was higher than that in settled chalk dust. The SEM images of PM2.5 filter papers (suspended chalk dust) showed that all pores of the sampled filter papers are clogged with chalk dust. The few SEM images of the settled chalk dust showed fibrous shape which is associated with good-quality chalk whereas others showed circular and more aggregated nature of chalk dust from low-quality chalk from which the dust production will be very high. As observed from the result that the trace elements concentration was high in the suspended chalk dust, the fact can be correlated with the SEM images which have shown high density of absorbed chalk dust. With reference to human health risk, dermal exposure was the main route of exposure followed by inhalation and ingestion. Al (aluminum), Fe (iron), Si (silicon), and Mn (manganese) are the major contributors for the non-carcinogenic effects. For all the elements, the carcinogenic effect calculated (LADD) is within the global acceptable limit (10(-6)-10(-4)).

DOI: 10.1007/s12011-016-0769-1 PMID: 27283836 [Indexed for MEDLINE]

2. Chem Res Toxicol. 2009 Sep;22(9):1548-58. doi: 10.1021/tx900046x.

Investigation of the cytotoxic and proinflammatory effects of cement dusts in rat alveolar macrophages.

van Berlo D(1), Haberzettl P, Gerloff K, Li H, Scherbart AM, Albrecht C, Schins RP.

Author information: (1)IUF-Institut für Umweltmedizinische Forschung, Auf'm Hennekamp 50, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany.

Exposure to cement dust, a specifically alkaline and irritant dust, is one of the most common occupational dust exposures worldwide. Although several adverse respiratory health effects have been associated with cement dust exposure, the evidence is not conclusive. In the current study, cytotoxic and pro-inflammatory effects as well as oxidative stress elicited by a number of cement dusts, including a limestone and cement clinker sample, were tested using the NR8383 rat alveolar macrophage cell line and primary rat alveolar macrophages. DQ12 quartz and TiO(2) were included as positive and negative controls, respectively. Cytotoxicity was determined by the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazoliumbromide assay and the lactate dehydrogenase assay, oxidative stress was determined by measurement of the depletion of total cellular glutathione, and electron spin resonance was applied to determine reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. The release of the cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), and macrophage inflammatory protein-2 (MIP-2) was determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. None of the dust samples were found to cause toxicity to the macrophages or notable glutathione depletion when compared to DQ12. The cement samples also failed to activate macrophages for the generation of ROS and the production of inflammatory cytokines IL-1 beta and MIP-2. In contrast, however, most of the cement dusts were found to activate macrophage TNFalpha production, and this was significantly associated with their content of CaO. Further research is needed to determine the relevance of these in vitro observations for occupational cement dust exposure settings.

DOI: 10.1021/tx900046x PMID: 19697923 [Indexed for MEDLINE]


As noted above, chalk, e.g. chalk dust in classrooms, and cement manufacture, are major sources of calcium carbonate pollution. Cement manufacturing is a dirty process, producing lots of air and water pollution, but calcium carbonate is a dangerous fraction, as far as I know, only when it's a dust < 10 microns. Calcium carbonate is the main ingredient in a lot of antacids and some calcium supplements.

In addition, one of the biggest producers of calcium carbonate dust is lime kilns. I searched "lime kilns" and "pollution" and got some links that look helpful. Lime kilns: CaCO3 -- heat --> CaO + CO2.... so they're major carbon dioxide emitters, besides emitting assorted unpleasant particulates in addition to the predominant CaCO3 dust- see article below: 2a http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00022470.1969.10466454 is useful; a table in the article notes the dust from lime kilns is 97.4% calcium carbonate.

Of course, there's pm pollution along the whole production chain, from the limestone/dolomite quarries, to the hauling, production, and hauling again.

In case you're curious, once calcium carbonate is cooked into lime, according to the National Lime Association, "The largest single use of lime remains steel manufacturing, where it is used to remove impurities. In construction, the dominant use of lime is in soil stabilization for roads, earthen dams, airfields, and building foundations. Lime can be combined with certain additives to produce other metals and is also a key ingredient in mortar and plaster in lime slurry form." Source: http://lime.org/lime-basics/uses-of-lime/

Thank you all! I heard back form the community member (who was following along reading this), and they thank everyone for this information. The studies were very helpful because they described the trace elements co-present with the calcium carbonate from the time it was mined. These heavy metals are the same as what's being found in the "dust" that is landing on this community, which hadn't otherwise been explainable by the industrial activity alone that was causing the bulk of the particulate pollution.

Another answer via @Zengirl2 !:

I just wanted to add a study I found for Sri Lanka looking at health issues from Lime dust emission. The study looked at different distances from the plant, as well as perceptions. Here is a key quote:

"Results revealed that people above 60 years and children below 15 years were more affected with respiratory diseases mainly with asthma, bronchitis and tuberculosis."


@RonHuber chimed in on the lists:

We hypothesized the calcium carbonate dust emanating from the Cement Kiln Dust waste piles of a cement kiln near Penobscot Bay had a local mitigating effect on surface water acidity. We got them to cover their dust mounds in 2005; there seem to be reduced abundance of coralline algae in nearby Rockland harbor's and Rockport Harbor's rocky intertidal and shallow subtidal for the last decade

Connection? Maybe. It would be insightful if calciferous species within the windshadow or dust dispersal zone of cement kilns near other shores were compared - Ocean acidification is known to affect skeleton formation of coralline algae.

Below are a few additional references and abstracts from Toxnet: CAS Registry Numbers:Calcium Carbonate

Studies on Deposition of Submicronic Dust Particles in the Respiratory Tract Authors:

Dautrebande L Beckmann H Walkenhorst W Source: American Medical Association Archives of Industrial Health, Vol. 19, pages 383-391, 16 references, 19591959


The location of inhaled dust in the respiratory tract was examined in three subjects. India-ink (8046524) (mean size 0.1 micron), iron-oxide (1309371) dust, aluminum (7429905) powder, and calcium-carbonate (471341) (mean size 0.2 microns) were inhaled in a mixing chamber for at least 2 minutes at rates of 3, 10, and 32 per minute. Exhaled air was collected as global expired air, end of tidal air, and alveolar air. Numbering and measurement of dust particles were carried out using electron microscope enlarged photograph after sampling. The deposition of particles (except for the deep pulmonary regions) varied inversely with the respiratory rate, with alveolar deposition accounting for 90 percent of the particles. Alveolar air was similar to that expired at the end of tidal air. The maximum size for particles found in deep alveolar air was approximately 1 micron, with decreased deposition below 0.5 microns, with no minimum. These factors were constant at all concentrations of inhaled air. The minimum retention sizes for global expired air and end tidal air were 0.25 microns. The authors conclude that there may or may not be a minimum retention size of these dusts; that there appears to be a minimum of 0.25 microns in global and end tidal air, but not in alveolar air, where 90 percent of the dust is deposited.

Acute Effects of Breathing Inert Dust Particles and of Carbachol Aerosol on the Mechanical Characteristics of the Lungs in Man. Changes in Response After Inhaling Sympathomimetic Aerosols Authors:

Dubois AB Dautrebande L Source: Journal of Clinical Investigation, Vol. 37, No. 12, pages 1746-1755, 21 references, 19581958


The effects of inhaled dust particles and carbachol (51832) aerosol on the mechanical characteristics of the lungs were studied in human subjects. The effects of a sympathomimetic aerosol were also investigated. This sympathomimetic drug was a mixture of isoproterenol (7683592), cyclopentamine (102454), and procaine (59461) in 80 percent propylene-glycol (57556). Dust particles were coal dust, activated charcoal, India-ink (8046524), calcium-carbonate (471341), and aluminum (7429905). Physiological measurements were recorded before dust inhalation, after breathing carbachol or dust, after a period allowed for spontaneous recovery, after breathing the sympathomimetic aerosol, and after rebreathing carbachol or dust. Lung compliance, pulmonary resistance, airway and tissue resistance, and thoracic gas volume were measured. Airway resistance increased in most subjects following inhalation of carbachol or dust particles (particularly coal and aluminum dusts). In several cases, airway resistance was doubled following inhalation of aluminum dust. Inhalation of saline or water aerosols did not produce this response. There was some spontaneous decrease in resistance with time, complete remission after sympathomimetic aerosol inhalation, and very little effect from inhalation of dust following the sympathomimetic aerosol. Pulmonary resistance was also reduced and a slight decrease in lung compliance was demonstrated in some cases. Changes in tissue volume were slight and inconsistent in direction. The authors conclude that the pattern of airway resistance response was sufficiently uniform to indicate that the various agents tested act by a common but unidentified physiological mechanism.

The Effects Of Intratracheally Administered Coarse Mode Particles On Respiratory Tract Infection In Mice


Aranyi C Graf JL O'Shea WJ Graham JA Miller FJ Source: Toxicology Letters, Vol. 19, No. 1, pages 63-72, 15 references, 19831983


The effects of intratracheally administered coarse mode particles on respiratory tract infections were investigated in mice. Female CD1-mice received intratracheal injections of solutions containing 10, 33, and 100 micrograms (microg) of ferric-oxide (1309371), calcium-carbonate (471341), quartz (14808607), and sodium-feldspar. The streptococcus infectivity model system was used to determine the effect of exposures on susceptibility to respiratory infection. After the challenge, mice were removed and deaths were recorded daily over a 14 day observation period. Exposed mice simultaneously inhaled aerosols of klebsiella-pneumoniae; the ratio of viable bacterial counts to radioactive counts in each animal's lungs provided the rate at which bacteria were destroyed 3 hours after infection. Mortality in mice challenged with streptococcal aerosol within 1 hour after the intratracheal injection of the particle suspensions showed a significant overall increase for each treatment group. Ferric-oxide was the only treatment that had an effect at 10microg per mouse. A dose of 33microg per mouse was needed to significantly enhance mortality. With calcium-carbonate and sodium-feldspar, mortality continued to increase with increasing concentration, whereas for ferric-oxide and quartz a response plateau was observed. The authors conclude that ferric-oxide, calcium-carbonate, and sodium-feldspar have effects roughly equivalent to quartz.

Acute eosinophilic pneumonia accompanied by mediastinal lymphadenopathy and thrombocytopenia.


Esme H Sahin O Sezer M Fidan F Unlu M Source: J Natl Med Assoc. 2006, Nov; 98(11):1848-50. [Journal of the National Medical Association]


Acute eosinophilic pneumonia, which was described in 1989, is thought to represent a hypersensitivity reaction to unidentified inhaled antigens. Here, we present a case of a marble mine worker with acute eosinophilic pneumonia complicated with mediastinal lymphadenopathy, neutrophilia, thrombocytopenia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

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