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Study probes link between soapstone and cancer – Waterloo Record
Forty-six-year-old Jimmy Cookie feels dizzy and has trouble breathing every time he carves into a slab of soapstone.
Now, University of Manitoba researchers are looking at whether Cookie’s lung problems could be linked with the traditional soapstone carving that’s popular in his home community of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut.
Soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a metamorphic rock, a talc-schist. It was used prior to the invention of pottery or ceramics for bowls in the Americas. It also conducts heat well and is mostly inert, thus its use for stove (cooking) utensils, sinks, and laboratory countertops. Alaska soapstone (now rare) can be transformed into gorgeous sculptures.
Although chemically inert for the most part, the stone is a soft material and scratches easily into fine, fibrous particles (talc, actually. In some rocks, a form of asbestos I believe The soapstone dust composition showed breathable asbestos fibers from the amphibole group (tremolite-actinolite). The results suggest talc asbestosis occurrence among soapstone handicraft workers.). The dust can penetrate lungs deeply and irritate the tissues leading to talcosis or talc pneumoconiosis (similarly to silicosis or asbestosis).
Wikipedia isn’t very helpful on the mineralogy and the physical structure. See the articles cited here–
MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004 Jul 23;53(28):627-32.
Changing Patterns of Pneumoconiosis Mortality — United States, 1968–2000
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Pneumoconioses are caused by the inhalation and deposition of mineral dusts in the lungs, resulting in pulmonary fibrosis and other parenchymal changes. Many persons with early pneumoconiosis are asymptomatic, but advanced disease often is accompanied by disability and premature death. Known pneumoconioses include coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), silicosis, asbestosis, mixed dust pneumoconiosis, graphitosis, and talcosis. No effective treatment for these diseases is available. This report describes the temporal patterns of pneumoconiosis mortality during 1968-2000, which indicates an overall decrease in pneumoconiosis mortality. However, asbestosis increased steadily and is now the most frequently recorded pneumoconiosis on death certificates. Increased awareness of this trend is needed among health-care providers, employers, workers, and public health agencies.
One of the classic cases of cancer from use of minerals in traditional arts is
Malignant mesothelioma. A cluster in a native American pueblo.
Driscoll RJ, Mulligan WJ, Schultz D, Candelaria A
N Engl J Med. 1988 Jun 2; 318(22): 1437-8
Unfortunately, there isn’t a publicly available copy on the Internet and no access to journals in Bethel. As I remember the article–
Mesothelioma is an asbestos caused lung cancer. In this case a cluster was found that had nothing to do with brake repair or mining. Instead, people discovered the fire resistant mat they used for soldering silver jewelery also whitened dance moccasins when used as a buffing surface. In addition, the mat had a tendency to flake after substantial use as a fireproof work surface. The mat was an old-fashioned fire resistant mat, made of asbestos.