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DEATH ROCKS! An episode about deadly rocks! Really, it's about some minerals which may contain harmful elements that through the repeated, ongoing, and/or prolonged exposure to them in unregulated environments may cause damage over time... but that doesn't fit in the title.
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If you want to learn more about some of these elements and their potential risk to your health, check out the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry -- tons of good info! http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/

Huge thanks to Jim Holstein for all of his help making this video, and for being a total ROCK star!.... get it? 'cuz geology ... ok

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Producer, Writer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Editor, Camera, Graphics:
Brandon Brungard
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This episode is supported by and filmed on location at:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL
(http://www.fieldmuseum.org)
Emily: Hey, we are here in the Meteoritics Lab with Jim Holstein.   James: Hi, I'm the collection manager of Physical Geology and Meteorites. And Emily, are you ready going to the most excellent adventure today?   Emily: Why absolutely.   James: Do you know what are we talking about today?   Emily: No, I don't.   James: We are talking about deadly minerals. And we call them...
Both: DEATH ROCKS!!   Emily: So today, we are going to learn about some deadly rocks.   James: And in front of us, we have a few examples of dangerous minerals. And these aren't necessarily deadly, but it depends on your exposure, and how you work with these materials.   Emily: OK, Jim. First, I think we need to do a review of the basics.
[The basics of rock]   James: Pop quiz, Emily.

Emily: Yeah.

James: What's this?   Emily: An atom.   James: And in the center of the atom, we call the nucleus. The nucleus is made out of what? 

Emily: Protons and neutrons. 

James: And around the nucleus? 

Emily: Electrons. 

James: These atoms are the building blocks of all matter. And this is expressed in the periodic table, of which we have four examples. Magnesium, iron, silicon and...

Emily: oxygen.

James: Yep. And these elements come together and form compounds. And these compounds sometimes form minerals. In the case of these four elements they form the mineral Olivine. And this lovely diagram is a rock, and rocks are aggregates of different minerals. So you can have Olivine inside of different types of rocks. Olivine is not a death rock by the way, it's not even dangerous, but we use as an example to show what rocks, minerals, elements and atoms are made of.

So the first deathly mineral is a mineral called Stibnite. And this is made out of an element called antimony. And people used to take this mineral, because it's a beautiful, metallic material, and make even utensils out of it. So not only were they breathing the dust in, when they were working with this material, they were actually putting material into their mouth. And this can potentially cause cancer, so a lot of people got poisoned from this mineral.

Next up, we have galena.   Emily: So Jim, what makes galena harmful?

James: Well, it is a ore of lead, and you've heard of people getting lead poisoning. So from lead paint, and so forth. If it gets in your body or blood stream, it can build up over time, and cause organ failure, seizures, coma, and death, if exposed to enough of it.
This next one, Emily, we need to wear gloves.   Emily: OK.

James: So do the glove snap.   Emily: Uh, you're way ahead of me. Yes. 

James: Alright, time it. Time it.   Emily: [stuttering] My hand is sweaty!

James: Ready? [snap!] Perfect.

So this one, looks like pyrite, but it is called arsenopyrite.  And it is called that, because it contains arsenic. And arsenic can cause organ failure, coma, seizures, hair loss and death, potentially. So this was a very popular poison, that people used to use. It is colorless, odorless and it is very deadly

This next mineral is called asbestos. It's one of the most deadly minerals known to man. It has this really beautiful thin fibrous crystals inside of it. And these fibers are so small, that you can breathe them in, and it get trapped in your lungs and they can cause cancer. They cause lung cancer, they cause another type of cancer called mesothelioma. And a lot of people were killed by this mineral. And it is a sort of a catchall term for 6 minerals. These were very popular to use in manufacturing, as well as building, because they're flame retardant. There are no safe exposure limits for asbestos. You can be exposed for a few amount asbestos for a couple of days, and develop cancer down to 10, 20 years down the line.

So this is a mineral called monazite, and it contains an element called thorium. And thorium is unstable, which means it breaks down from one element to another over time. So rocks that contain monazite can be used for radiometric dating. So scientifically, these types of rocks are very important. But anyone who is an amateur collector or professional collector, who has radioactive minerals in their collection, should take precautions. These should be stored in a room that people don't occupy very often. People shouldn't smoke, eat or drink around them.   Emily: Can I ask you why a private citizen or individual would want to have a piece of radioactive material in their house?

James: Because it's cool as all get out.

Emily: Can you just bust it out at a party... 

James: Yes, you go to a party and say "Look at my radioactive rock" 

Emily: It would be like "Harry, put the rock away, we don't need to see that right now!" 

James: "Put your hot rocks back in your room!"

Of the three radioactive particles that this mineral is emitting, gamma radiation is the most dangerous. And that is something we have to be very careful around, because it can destroy tissue, it goes through just about anything other than lead shielding. And it can destroy tissue, organs and can cause cancer.

So I brought one up that isn't terribly radioactive. But it is emitting particles, and what this is capturing are events, basically. It's probably capturing gamma radiation at this point, but not alpha or beta particles.

Emily: So this one doesn't seem to be ultra powerful.   James: Yeah, I brought one up that wasn't as radioactive as other specimens of the collection. 

Emily: Oh, thank you. 

James: You're welcome. But, how about we go downstairs and look at the other ones?

Emily: Yeah!!

[TO THE REALLY RADIOACTIVE STUFF]

James: So Emily, now we are down in the collection. We have over 16 thousand minerals specimens, from all over the world.

Emily: Yeah.   James: And some of them can be kind of dangerous.

Emily: Yeah.
James: So we looked at the radioactive mineral upstairs, there is more radioactive noise down here. This is our cabinet of radioactive minerals.

Emily: Is that why there is this "CAUTION - RADIATION AREA" on it?
James: That is why there is this "CAUTION - RADIATION AREA."
Emily: And also the Geiger counter.   James: The Geiger counter is saying it is, too. I've calculated that if you were standing in front of this cabinet for about an hour, it is equivalent taking a round trip plane flight from New York to L.A. And a 20-minute exposure in front of this cabinet is the equivalent getting a chest X-ray.

Emily: Oh.

James: Yeah. So there is a few more radiation coming out from this, but it is one of those things I want you to know (about) the dangers and the risk, you would mitigate those risks, because you would limit your exposure.

Emily: If you going to pick a cabinet to stand in front of, maybe don't pick this one.

James: Pick another cabinet.

This mineral is called cinnabar. Doesn't it sound yummy?

Emily: It does.

James: And the mineral itself is actually red, and people would carve these minerals, for ornamentation, for jewelry, and so forth. But the cinnabar, has mercury in it. And mercury can be a pretty deadly mineral. It is something that the body doesn't need, it is something that gets in your blood stream, it can cause organ damage, it can cause seizures, coma and death. You are seeing that there is a common theme going on here? 

Emily: Yeah. 
James: Seizures, comas and death. Oh, that could be a good song. Let's do a rap called "Seizures, comas and death."

Emily: Like, [singing] deadly rocks, seizures, coma and death! Deadly rocks! Yeah! That was great. 

James: That was horrible.   Emily: This is the final death rock. Is this the deadliest rock we are looking at today? 

James: I would say it's up there. This is called hutchinsonite. And this is a combination of three potentially deadly elements. Thallium, lead and arsenic. It is a brutal cocktail. Individually, these elements can kill you, but all together they can kill you three times. And some of these can cause hair loss, cancer, and what else do you think?

Emily: Coma, organ failure, seizures and death. Is that how it went?

James: No, "coma, seizures and death."   Emily: Yeah. Coma, seizures and death. Death rocks!!

James: Rock on.   Emily: So Jim, I have to ask you. We have all of these beautiful specimens in front of us, it's obvious that these wouldn't making on display, they are too dangerous, you wouldn't want to have people interacting with them, but what is the value of having them in a museum collection?   James: So, this is part of our scientific reference collection. So if we have a researcher studying a particular mineral, we want to make sure we have full coverage of those minerals in that collection. So as a repository of minerals that are representative of localities around the world, there is a obligation to have these in a collection. You know, science is uncovering new things, you learn more things about it. Asbestos, at one time, up until the middle last century it was thought to be safe, until people started to get sick and started dying from these things. And scientific research, had another look at it, the medical research, had another look at it, to discover that this people were in fact becoming sick and ill from these rocks.

Emily: Wow. So I'm glad that we know that about these things, that I didn't have to contribute to that body of knowledge in the positive or negative way, you know by dying. And it's great that we have them in the collection, and know more about them. 
James: Absolutely. You should always know your rocks and Emily ...

Emily: Yeah?   James: Party on, Emily.   Emily: Party on, Jim.   James: Party on, Soon.
[rock music plays]

Emily: It still has brains on it...