Dolomite is a common mineral. It is also known as CaMg(CO3)2 and is a type of compact limestone consisting of a calcium magnesium carbonate. In combination with calcite and aragonite, dolomite makes up approximately 2% of the earth's crust. The mineral was first described by and then named after the French mineralogist and geologist Deodat de Dolomieu (1750–1801).
Dolomite is a fairly soft mineral that occurs as crystals as well as in large sedimentary rock beds several hundred feet thick. The crystals—usually rhombohedral in shape—are transparent to translucent and are colorless, white, reddish-white, brownish-white, gray, or sometimes pink. In powdered form, dolomite dissolves readily with effervescence in warm acids.
Although rock beds containing dolomite are found throughout the world, the most notable quarries are located in the Midwestern United States; Ontario, Canada; Switzerland; Pamplona, Spain; and Mexico.
Although dolomite does not form on the surface of the earth at the present time, massive layers of dolomite can be found in ancient rocks. Dolomite is one of the few sedimentary rocks that undergoes a significant mineralogical change after it is deposited. Dolomite rocks are originally deposited as calcite/aragonite-rich limestone, but during a process called diagenesis, the calcite and/or aragonite is transformed into dolomite. Magnesium-rich ground water containing a significant amount of salt is thought to be essential to dolomite formation. Thus, warm, tropical marine environments are considered the best sources of dolomite formation.
Dolomite is commonly used in a variety of products. A few of these are listed below:
- antacids (neutralizes stomach acid)
- base for face creams, baby powders, or toothpaste
- calcium/magnesium nutritional supplements for animals and humans
- ceramic glazes on china and other dinnerware (dolomite is used as source of magnesia and calcia)
- fertilizers (dolomite added as soil nutrient)
- glass (used for high refractive optical glass)
- gypsum impressions from which dental plates are made (magnesium carbonate)
- mortar and cement
- plastics, rubbers, and adhesives
Although calcium carbonate (the kind found in dolomite) has the highest concentration of calcium by weight (40%) and is the most common preparation available, this form of calcium is relatively insoluble and can be difficult to break down in the body. In contrast, calcium citrate, although containing about half as much calcium by weight (21%), is a more soluble form. Since calcium citrate does not require gastric acid for absorption, it is considered a better source of supplemental calcium, particularly for the elderly, whose stomach acid secretions are decreased.
Calcium supplements offer many benefits and recent research even reports that calcium supplements can help prevent formation of kidney stones when combined with a fairly low animal protein, low salt diet. Doctors once advised a low-calcium diet to prevent kidney stones.
Dolomite is generally ground into coarse or finelygrained powder and made into calcium/magnesium capsules or antacids for human consumption. The powdered form is also used in animal feed, fertilizers, and a variety of other applications.
Not all commercially prepared calcium supplements are tested for heavy metal contamination. In 1981 the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned the public to limit the intake of calcium supplements made from dolomite or bone meal (ground up cow's bones) because of potentially hazardous lead levels. Additional studies show that other calcium supplements, such as carbonates and various chelates, may also contain hazardous amounts of lead.
When purchasing calcium supplements, products marked as purified (especially those made from dolomite, bone meal, or oyster shells) or those containing the USP (United States Pharmacopoeia) symbol are considered the safest. The symbol means that the vitamin and mineral manufacturer's product has voluntarily met the USP's criteria for quality, strength, and purity.
New research also encourages consumers to tell their doctors when they take antacids and calcium supplements so that physicians can watch for possible side effects or interactions with medications. Some antacids can cause side effects that eventually put patients at risk for serious problems. If a patient has a complicating problem like renal dysfunction, he or she can suffer from aluminum toxicity from certain antacids.
Another potential health risk associated with dolomite arises from storing food in or eating or drinking from dinnerware or cups made with glazes containing dolomite. Although it is not possible to detect a lead glaze on china with the naked eye, corroded glaze, or a dusty or chalky, gray residue on the glaze after the piece has been washed is a good indication of lead content. Although high lead toxicity is rare, trace amounts may be present. If possible, it is best to purchase dinnerware that is labeled lead-free. Also, stoneware, unless painted with decorations on the surface, are normally coated with a material that contains no lead. Glass dishes, with the exception of leaded glass and glass painted with decorations or decals, are also considered safe.
The problem is intensified if the food or beverage consumed is acidic, since acid increases lead leaching. Although other additives in glazes may contribute to the lead content (such as lead oxide or cadmium) leaching out, dolomite is a potential cause for lead toxicity.
Glazes on bathtubs also may contain harmful amounts of lead, which may leach out into the bathwater, especially if the glaze is worn. Information regarding lead content can be obtained from the manufacturer. Lead testing kits are also available by mail order or at most home and garden centers.
Fertilizers and animal feed
Dolomite and bone meal in fertilizers and animal feed may contaminate the soil, animals, and humans with lead and other toxic metals.
Indirect side effects may occur if more than the recommended dosage of any calcium supplement is taken over an extended period of time. If more than 2,000 mg/day of calcium is consumed, gastrointestinal problems can occur.
Some of the short-term symptoms of low-level lead exposure (which is particularly harmful to the young and elderly) include:
- decreased appetite
Some of the long-term effects of low-level lead exposure include:
- learning disabilities
- brain damage
- loss of IQ points
- attention deficit disorder
- hyperactive behavior
- criminal or antisocial behavior
- neurological problems
Deer, W. A., R. A. Howie, and J. Zussman. "Dolomite." In An Introduction to Dolomite. Essex, England: Longman Group, 1966.
Haas, Elson M. "Calcium." In Staying Healthy With Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1992.
"Unrestricted Calcium Intake Protects Against Recurrent Kidney Stones Better than a Restricted Calcium Diet." Environmental Nutrition (March 2002): 3.
Wooten, James W. "Know Your Antacids—and Who's Taking Them." RN (March 2002): 92.
National Lead Information Center. 801 Roeder Road, Suite 600, Silver Spring, MD 20910. (800) 424-LEAD. <http://www.epa.gov/lead/nlic.htm>.
National Osteoporosis Foundation. 1232 22nd Street NW, Washington, DC 20037-1292. (202) 223-2226. <http://www.nof.org>.
Teresa G. Odle