Clinoptilolite Zeolite Information and History

What is Clinoptilolite Zeolite?

zeolite_structureA short answer would be: micro-porous minerals of volcanic origin. A more explanatory answer would explain that better is that CZeolite is are inorganic ”crystalline minerals” having a highly regular structure of pores, chambers or capillaries that are negatively charged that allows some molecules to pass through, and causes others to be trapped inside its chambers. The scientific answer is that Clinoptilolite belongs to a geological family of minerals known as molecular sieves.

A new and burgeoning use of zeolite is the removal of heavy metals from liquid solution or from the human body. See James L. Flowers, Stewart A Lonky, and Erik J Deitsch. "Clinical Evidence Supporting the Use of an Activated Clinoptilolite Suspension as an Agent to Increase Urinary Excretion of Toxic Heavy Metals." Nutrition and Dietary Supplements 2009: 11-18.

The most important zeolite mineral is called clinoptilolite, or Potassium-calcium-sodium-aluminosilicate, and is classified as a dietary supplement under US-FDA guidelines (see FAQ for more information). The tiny, nanosized tunnels of clinoptilolite are so small they can only be detected by electron microscopes or X-Ray Diffraction Analysis.

zeolite-used-in-aquaductsMajor Historical Milestones Regarding Clinoptilolite Zeolite Use

  • B.C. — Used in Roman Aqua Ducts to purify the water
  • 1760s — Rediscovered by a Swedish mineralogist
  • 1960’s — Mentioned in scientific circles in Europe and U.S.
  • 1970’s — Used for wastewater ammonia removal and Chernobyl radioactivity removal - see a recommendation regarding radiation removal with zeolite (zeolite and radiation removal)
  • 1980’s — Used to clarify pool water in Europe and then in USA
  • 1990’s — Used in agriculture and with cattle and poultry and began to be sold as a supplement for detoxifying the human body
  • 2000’s — Many companies are now marketing clinoptilolite zeolite in numerous products

Summary of More Recent History of Clinoptilolite Zeolite

After the knowledge of zeolite was lost to mankind with the demise of the Roman empire, zeolites were rediscovered and described in 1756 by Cronstedt, a Swedish mineralogist who coined the name from two Greek words meaning ‘boiling stones’, referring to the evolution of steam when the rock is heated. About fifty different natural zeolites are now known and more than one hundred and fifty have been synthesized for specific applications such as industrial catalysis or as detergent builders.

Clinoptilolite is a naturally occurring zeolite, formed by the devitrification (ie the conversion of glassy material to crystalline material) of volcanic ash in lake and marine waters millions of years ago. It is the most researched of all zeolites and is widely regarded as the most useful. In common with other zeolites, clinoptilolite has a cage-like structure consisting of SiO4 and AlO4 tetrahedra joined by shared oxygen atoms. The negative charges of the AlO4 units are balanced by the presence of exchangeable cations - notably calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and iron. These ions can be readily displaced by other substances, for example heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium, etc..) and ammonium ions. This phenomenon is known as cationic exchange, and it is the very high cationic exchange capacity of clinoptilolite which provides many of its useful properties. Being a naturally occurring mineral, the precise composition of clinoptilolite is subject to a degree of variation. However, an approximate empirical formula is (Ca, Fe, K, Mg, Na)3-6Si30Al6O72.24H2O. The Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Number for clinoptilolite is 12173-10-3.

The Origin of Zeolite

Zeolite begins as volcanic ash that is spewed into the atmosphere during violent eruptions. Ash plumes can travel thousands of miles before they are deposited on the earth’s surface.

In nature, zeolites are often formed where volcanic rock of specific chemical composition is immersed in water so as to leach away some of the components. Composition and pore size, of course, depend upon what kind of rock minerals are involved.

Zeolites are volcanic hard rock minerals. They are derived from volcanic ash that is solidified and mineralized over thousands to millions of years.

Uses of Zeolite

Zeolites have many useful purposes. They can perform ion exchange, filtering, odor removal, chemical sieve and gas absorption tasks. The most well known use for zeolites is in water filtration applications. The synthetic industry has mimicked some of the natural zeolites, and formed many new ones targeted towards very specific purposes.

Of the many natural zeolites, clinoptilolite is the type suited for the broadest use of applications because of its hardness and capability to be ground finely to achieve a small particle size and because of its SAFETY. Other than the inhalation of clinoptilolite dust and over consumption which could dry out the stool and cause constipation, Clinoptilolite is quite safe, as attributed to by its GRAS status with the US FDA.

Clinoptilolite is currently used in diverse applications such as drinking water purification, air filtration, plant fertilizer and as an animal feed additive. Many studies have shown that clinoptilolite absorbs toxins created by molds in animal feeds, as well as enhancing nutrient absorption by cattle, pigs, lambs and other animals. Clinoptilolite of volcanic origin has been approved by the EU for use in the category of “Binders, anti-caking agents and coagulants” in feeding stuffs for pigs, rabbits and poultry at levels of up to 20,000 mg/kg. In the United States, clinoptilolite falls under the category of Potassium-calcium-sodium-aluminosilicate and has GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status used primarily as an anti-caking agent (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Section 182.2727).

During the Chernobyl disaster, thirty to forty times the radioactivity of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were released. The main radioactive isotopes from the Chernobyl accident were 137Cs, 134Cs, 90Sr, and 89Sr. About 500,000 tons of zeolite rock powder, mainly containing clinoptilolite, were processed from various deposits in Ukraine, Georgia, and Russia and used at Chernobyl. The details of zeolite applications at Chernobyl remain rather obscure because of a secrecy problem still remaining after disintegration of the former Soviet Union, but from what can be deduced, the majority of the zeolite was used for the construction of protective barriers and for agricultural applications in polluted areas.

Clinoptilolite forms the basis of the anti-diarrhea drug ‘Enterex’, which was approved by the Cuban Drug Control Agency in 1995. The large majority of toxicology studies on zeolites have been performed on clinoptilolite, chabazite and Zeolite A – the latter because of its widespread - 3 - use in household detergents. No fatal case arising from the oral uptake of any of these zeolites has been identified.

Specifically, along the lines of human health, people have discovered that clinoptilolite zeolite can be ingested and will clean, deodorize and detoxify the human body, with no harmful side effects. Clinoptilolite zeolite provides useful minerals to the body and pulls harmful metals and other toxins out of the body.

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