Abstract

Ferrierite is the name for a series of zeolite-group of minerals which includes three species with the same ferrierite framework (FER) crystal structure but different extra-framework cations. Recent studies have shown that ferrierite can exhibit a fibrous-asbestiform crystal habit and may possess the same properties as carcinogenic fibrous erionite. Characterisation of the ferrierite in and around a mine location will be helpful in assessing the potential for toxic outcomes of exposure in the mine and any local population.

The zeolite-rich tuff deposit of Lovelock, Nevada, USA is the largest occurrence of diagenetic ferrierite-Mg. A previous survey reported that ferrierite hosted in these rocks displays a fibrous morphology. However, these observations concerned a limited number of samples and until now there has been little evidence of widespread occurrence of fibrous ferrierite in the Lovelock deposit.

The main goal of this study was to perform a mineralogical and morphometric characterisation of the tuff deposit at Lovelock and evaluate the distribution of fibrous ferrierite in the outcrop. For this purpose, a multi-analytical approach including powder X-ray diffraction, scanning and transmission microscopies, micro-Raman spectroscopy, thermal analyses, and surface-area determination was applied.

The results prove fibrous ferrierite is widespread and intermixed with mordenite and orthoclase, although there are variations in the spatial distribution in the bedrock. The crystal habit of the ferrierite ranges from prismatic to asbestiform (elongated, thin and slightly flexible) and fibres are aggregated in bundles. According to the WHO counting criteria, most of the ferrierite fibres can be classified as breathable. While waiting for confirmatory in vitro and in vivo tests to assess the actual toxicity/pathogenicity potential of this mineral fibre, it is recommended to adopt a precautionary approach for mining operations in this area to reduce the risk of exposure.

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