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Dangers of Ingesting Diatomaceous Earth

by
author image Amy Liddell
Amy Liddell has been writing on health and medicine since 2004. She is also a biomedical scientist and studies human cancer. Her articles have appeared in scientific journals, medical textbooks and on health-related consumer websites. Liddell holds a Doctor of Philosophy in biological and biomedical sciences from Harvard University.
Dangers of Ingesting Diatomaceous Earth
Skeletons of single-celled algae called diatoms make up diatomaceous earth. Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Diatomaceous earth is a chalky natural sediment. It is available in food-grade forms and approved for use in the manufacturing and processing of many common food products. The International Programme on Chemical Safety reports no toxic effects from ingestion. As with any nonfood substance, if you are concerned that someone else has ingested an unsafe amount, contact your local poison control for advice.

Composition

Diatoms are microscopic, single-celled algae that live in oceans, lakes, ponds and marshes throughout the world. Diatomaceous earth, also known as diatomite, consists of the silica-based cell walls of dead diatoms. The silica skeletons of these cells are approximately 10 to 200 microns in diameter and display a range of intricate fine structures.

Uses

Because of its small particle size and low reactivity, diatomaceous earth is widely used industrially as a filtering agent. Sugar and sweetener liquors, oils and fats, beverages including beer and wine, water, chemicals and pharmaceuticals are some of the materials processed by filtering through diatomaceous earth. It is also used as a filler in paints, plastics and cements and as an absorbent for industrial spills. Diatomacecous earth is used to treat pets and livestock as a means of parasite control.

Ingestion

Diatomaceous Earth has a long and safe history of use as a filter aid in food processing. particularly in the manufacturing of high-fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin. More than 170,000 tons of diatomaceous earth are used in the filtration of food products annually. For these reasons the FDA has granted GRAS, Generally Recognized as Safe, status to filtration media containing diatomaceous earth. No acute toxic reactions have been reported from ingestion.

Inhalation

Inhalation of diatomaceous earth may cause temporary respiratory irritation such as sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, eye, nose and throat irritation or bloody nose. People with existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma patients or smokers, and children may be more sensitive to the effects of diatomaceous earth. Symptoms should improve after the exposure is removed. Crystalline silica forms when diatomaceous earth is heated to very high temperatures, and this form of silica may cause lung disease. However, exposure is considered an occupational hazard only. This means that workers exposed to crystalline silica on a daily basis for many years may be at risk, but casual contact is not likely to be hazardous.

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