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.
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.
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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.
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 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.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.