Friday, November 20, 2020

Dangerous Minerals That Can Be Found in Daily Life

                                                         Image Source: Pixabay

There are over 4,000 naturally-occurring minerals in the world. Many of them are a part of your everyday life, and you probably don’t give them much thought.

Some of the most common minerals that can make life go on as normal each day include copper, iron ore, silver, cobalt, and lithium. Without minerals, life as we know it would be completely different, and we wouldn’t have many of the creature comforts we depend on.

While minerals are essential for how we live our lives, some of them can be quite dangerous. Understanding which minerals can be toxic (and even deadly) can help you to stay away from them and focus on the ones that can benefit you, rather than harm you.

Let’s look at some of those dangerous minerals, where they can be found, and why you should avoid them.


Asbestos is commonly-talked about material, thanks to its prominence several decades ago. In the U.S., asbestos was a common construction material until the 1970s. It was used in homes and commercial buildings for insulation and absorption. If you own an older home today, there is a chance the walls still may contain asbestos. So, any construction projects you take on need to be handled with care.

 Asbestos is dangerous to the average person because it can create a variety of lung issues. It is an incredibly small substance. In fact, 80,000 fibers of asbestos can fit on a single grain of rice. So, if it is breathed in, it’s far too easy for those fibers to burrow into the lungs. That can create problems like:

     Shortness of breath



     Pain in the chest

Over time, it can even lead to severe health conditions, including lung cancer. Thankfully, asbestos isn’t nearly as commonly-found anymore. If you are worried that your home or building might contain traces, it’s important to take precautions when doing any sort of project, including wearing a mask and utilizing proper ventilation.


There are plenty of old stereotypes and even jokes about using arsenic as a poison substance. But, there is nothing funny about the damage it can do. Arsenic minerals include:




 These minerals can be found in everyday metals to pesticides. Unfortunately, arsenic is highly poisonous when inhaled or ingested. It can lead to certain types of respiratory issues and even developmental disorders.

 One of the most dangerous things about arsenic is that it can contaminate water when proper precautions aren’t in place. Arsenic from certain metals can get into drinking water and lead to everything from skin lesions to cancer. Finding arsenic in groundwater has become a serious problem in some parts of the earth, making it more important than ever to be aware of this toxic mineral.

 Reverse osmosis is the best way to remove arsenic from drinking water. This is something that should only be performed by a water treatment plant. You should never try “cleaning” arsenic from your water at home using substances like chlorine or bleach. Prolonged exposure to or ingestion of bleach can cause respiratory issues or long-term damage to the stomach lining. You’re simply replacing one toxin with another.


Mercury is derived from the mineral cinnabar, but most people know it by this more common name. It is the only metal on earth that turns into a liquid at room temperature, which used to make it ideal for thermometers. It is also still used in some fluorescent light bulbs and even electrical switches.

 Unfortunately, mercury is highly toxic and dangerous. Unlike many other minerals, you don’t even have to ingest it or breathe it in for it to have negative effects on your body. Mercury can simply be absorbed through the skin. Mercury can also be found in some fish and shellfish. Shark, swordfish, and King Mackerel are known for having high levels of mercury. Fish like tuna, salmon, and catfish all have low levels and are safe for adults to eat regularly.

If you are worried that you may have been exposed to mercury or ingested it somehow, understanding some of the most common signs can help you to determine your next step.

 Symptoms of mercury poisoning include:

     Vision, speech, and hearing impairment

     Rashes on the skin

     Weak muscles

     Numbness in the hands and feet

     Memory loss

 Certain groups of people, such as pregnant women and young children, are at a greater risk of experiencing these symptoms. But, no one is “immune” from mercury poisoning, and the cinnabar mineral is something that should be avoided. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, consult a doctor immediately.

 Knowing more about dangerous minerals can help you to stay safe. So many other minerals make our lives easier. Even these harmful ones have had their place. But, keep your distance and avoid contact with them. There’s a reason they aren’t often used for many purposes anymore. 

Contributed by Indiana Lee: Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. When she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Contently, or reach her at

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Importance of "Dirty" Rivers

Complex river systems are the foundation of much of what we have to enjoy here on this planet. They support wildlife populations, provide soil nutrients, and so much more. Humans have had a profound impact on river systems, however, changes in current practices and increased focus on restoring rivers to their natural status can make a major difference in our lives. 

Image Source:


Think of your local river. The place you take a walk when you’re looking for solitude or comfort in nature. The place you take your children fishing. Or perhaps where you go when you’re looking for relief from the brutal summer heat.

Chances are, that the river that you love for all the nature it brings into your life really isn’t all that natural. In fact, the majority of the river systems in our world today have been significantly altered by humans whether we recognize the changes we have made throughout history or not. A vast number of our river systems have been greatly simplified — they aren’t as messy or complex as they really should be.

Though in many ways these changes have produced some benefit for people at some point in time, they are catching up with us. Simplified rivers are not as resilient and the ecological damage we have inadvertently caused could come back to haunt us within our lifetimes. Small changes in our habits and priorities could lead to greater changes that will benefit our river ecology and could just save us all.

Complex Rivers

When we think of a complex, natural, healthy river, we are really talking about one of the greatest natural feats of engineering available in the world. These rivers have ebbs and flows that the foundations of the surrounding ecosystems are built around. They have variability in pitch and depth that creates homes for numerous species that our society depends upon. 

These complex rivers collect and move sediment across a landscape. For instance, seasonal flooding refreshes the floodplains with minerals and nutrients brought down by the river from mountain erosion and decomposing substances. This influx of sediment is critical for the long-term growth and survival of native vegetation and forms the basis of the food chain that all animals are part of.

Finally, a complex river is one that is resilient. It — and the surrounding habitats it supports — are able to recover from unexpected natural events and thrive after a short period. Many experts believe that healthy rivers and surrounding ecosystems are absolutely critical to our ability to deal with climate change. Basically, the more healthy, intact natural areas we have, the better our chances are in the long-run.

Human Impacts

Once humans entered the equation things began to change. Typically that which benefited us in the short-term negatively impacted the entire ecosystem (including future generations of humans) in the long-term. For instance, dams and overfishing have powered many of our cities and made many people rich selling food, but they have altered the geomorphology of streams, ruined quality habitat, and caused populations we could be sustainably harvesting today to crash.

Many dams built back in the day are reaching a point where they are requiring more and more maintenance to keep up. Many of them are a collecting point for sediment, which hinders the sediment renewal cycle in floodplains downstream and leads to decreases in soil and vegetation health. Furthermore, the sediment causes wear and tear on the dams and must be monitored regularly.

It may come as a shock with all of the environmental regulations that have been put in place since the 1960s, but one study conducted in 2013 found that nearly half of America’s rivers were still too polluted to be healthy for people, let alone the ecosystems they originally supported. The current administration has worked diligently to roll back numerous environmental regulations, so it can only be assumed that these rivers and possibly more will remain too polluted.

Polluted and unhealthy rivers also pose a more direct impact on our health. For example, different forms of human-caused pollution in rivers can lead to the growth of different bacterias that can make people seriously ill. It is one of many ways that diseases of the future could evolve to pandemic level proportions.

Contributed by Indiana Lee: Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. When she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Contently, or reach her at

Friday, June 12, 2020

Top 5 Little Known Geological Jobs in 2020

Image: Unsplash 

In these uncertain times, Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are all the rage among job seekers looking for stable and timeless careers. In fact, employment in science and engineering occupations was expected to grow by 18.7% between 2010 and 2020, across all STEM fields. While jobs in the physical sciences aren’t growing as rapidly as computer and mathematical scientist occupations, plenty of opportunities exist for those who hold a geology degree.

While many laymen might think geology is just the study of rocks, geologists know that the field has much more to offer, and prospective job seekers with an interest in the Earth’s composition have numerous sub-disciplines to choose from. Some geological jobs allow you to explore outer space while others keep you firmly rooted on Earth, creating maps or studying the topography of glaciers. Let’s explore five little-known geological jobs that promote a greater understanding of Earth and its history.

1. Astrogeologist

Humanity has long looked to the stars for inspiration, and today’s innovators are working hard to make space tourism a reality. Astrogeologists are among the hard-working professionals who keep the dream of space exploration alive. It’s likely that Richard Branson has at least one astrogeologist on his payroll at Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company founded in 2004.

Interestingly, however, astrogeology doesn’t have a direct connection to spaceflight per se. Instead, those within the discipline of astrogeology study the growth and evolution of celestial bodies including planets, asteroids, comets, and moons. Astrogeology is also known as planetary geology, and trained astrogeologists may create planetary maps, conduct the remote sensing of celestial surfaces, and more.

2. Cartographer

Astrogeology has much in common with cartography, as both disciplines involve exploration and are deeply rooted in human history. Cartographers are responsible for making maps and ensuring their precision. Whether those maps are in paper or digital form, accuracy is essential to a cartographer’s job.

Cartographers should hold at least a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, according to Maryville University. Further, “a combination of experience and/or further education in cartography, geology, or civil engineering” is vital for map-making professionals. And make no mistake: The competition is fierce in the realm of cartography, which is ranked No. 4 in the U.S. News and World Report’s list of best engineering jobs.

3. Glaciologist

Climate change is directly linked to geology, as the negative effects of the phenomenon become increasingly apparent. It’s no secret that the Earth’s glaciers are melting at a rapid rate, and glaciologists are on the front lines of the phenomenon. Glaciologists study the formation and movement of glaciers, both arctic and alpine, as well as ice caps and sheets.

While collaboration with other glaciologists and professionals is part of the job, plenty of solo work is involved. Furthermore, a glaciologist’s office is often in a remote location, and jackets are always required outdoors.

4. Petroleum Geologist

If you’re interested in exploring coastlines and cultivating sustainability, you may be interested in working as a petroleum geologist, arguably the occupation least involved with actual rocks on this list. But make no mistake, this dynamic and lucrative occupation is still firmly rooted in STEM and in the field of geology.

Petroleum geologists work to determine the location and amount of combustible fuel in a particular area. The job toes the line between land and sea, and the job requirements are a bit more intensive than in some other geological disciplines. Generally speaking, a master’s degree is preferred for all prospective petroleum geologist candidates, along with appropriate certification such as the Certification for Petroleum Geology (CPG).

5. Geomorphologist

The Earth is made up of countless components, some of which can change the very nature of our planet’s surface. The study of the way in which the Earth’s surface is morphed and altered by oceans, rivers, air, mountains, and beyond is called geomorphology. Typically, geomorphologists specialize in a single area such as sand, rivers, or rock as well as mineral formations.

Information gathered by geomorphologists is used in a variety of applications such as healthcare. Minerals and rocks aren’t always as innocuous as they seem. Asbestos, for example, is a naturally occurring silicate mineral commonly used in construction materials. It’s also extremely dangerous, and prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers can cause cancer including an aggressive lung cancer known as mesothelioma.

Geomorphologists are integral to the mesothelioma prevention process by continuing to study the forms and processes of asbestos. Searching for mineral-based alternatives and regularly assessing asbestos risks at job sites may also be part of the job of a trained geomorphologist.

Final Thoughts

Studying rock formations is just the beginning for today’s geologists. Workers in the versatile discipline of geology might head to Antarctica to study glaciers, observe and map out a changing coastline, or help plan a major oil pipeline. No matter the geologic field you hope to specialize in, a strong background in STEM subjects can help you stand out. 

Contributed by Indiana Lee: Indiana Lee is a  journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering workplace issues, environmental protection, social justice, and more. When she is not writing you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Contently, or reach her at

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Science of Gemstones [Guest Article]

Gemmology, also known as the science of gemstones, is the study of precious gemstones. It mainly focuses on identifying gemstones, confirming its authenticity, evaluating the quality, determining the origin, and disclosing the treatment used for the gemstone. A major part of it requires distinguishing between natural gemstones and synthetic counterparts and imitations. Earlier it was difficult to identify synthetic crystals but that is not much of a problem these days. Gemmologists also find out the treatment used for gemstones as it directly influences the price of a gemstone. In most cases, original gemstones undergo physical and chemical treatment to enhance the aesthetic appeal.

Origins of Some Famous Gemstones

Gemmologists have a set of skills to identify where exactly the gemstone was mined from. Gemstones usually have certain characteristics typical of the origin. Many consumers also have a special preference for gemstones belonging to a particular origin. for example, Blue sapphire from Kashmir, Rubies from Burma, Emerald from Columbia have always been in great demand. Such gemstones cost comparatively more than similar gemstones from other localities.

 Kashmir sapphires are valued as they contain the best specimens. These gemstones are seen to have an excellent cornflower blue tint. Most describe the hue as ‘blue velvet’. While some Burmese and Ceylonese sapphires also come relatively close in quality, only the Kashmir Sapphire continues to rule the Sapphire World. 

Difference Between Synthetic and Natural Gemstones

Classification of gemstones is necessary when dealing with them. Natural gemstones are the ones that grow naturally in nature over the years. On the other hand, "Synthetic" gemstones are those which exactly mimic natural gemstones but are created by man in a laboratory. They possess the same physical, chemical, and optical properties as the natural gemstone. The most common of these are synthetic Diamonds, Synthetic Sapphires, and synthetic Quartz. A layman can not identify the difference between synthetic and natural gemstone. Then comes the “Imitation gemstones” which basically have a similar appearance as the original gemstones. For example, blue glass, polystyrene, or zirconia. The most popular impression of a diamond is zirconia (synthetic ZrO2). Zirconia cannot be easily distinguished from a diamond in the same shape.

How to check the quality and related certifications

Gemstones are not only used for Jewelry purposes but also for their astrological benefit and healing properties. It is crucial to be assured of the authenticity of the gemstone to avoid any negative impact. Many dealers trade fake gemstones in the market to maximize profit. One should be aware of the tricks used by such dears to dupe their customers. It is always desirable to get a gemstone from a reputed seller who is happy to answer all your queries with utmost honesty. There is no better way than to invest your hard-earned money in a real, lab certified gemstone as it ensures the best value for your money. When buying a rare and expensive gemstone that too of a popular origin, one should be extra cautious and must look for certificates issued by the reputed gem labs like IGI, GTL, GIA, GRS, etc.

Pricing Factors of Gemstones

Before choosing a gemstone, it is necessary to know how a minor variation in quality, size, or origin can bring a huge variation in the gemstone price. Color, clarity, cut and carat weight are some of the key price grading factors. If you are planning to buy a gemstone for astrological use, it is important to ensure that the gemstone is natural and free from any sort of treatment (heating, chemical treatment, dying, etc.). Selecting a gemstone from a reputed origin is one good way to ensure quality.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Where does energy in U.S come from? [Guest Article]

From burning firewood to using electricity from renewable sources, the home energy landscape has drastically changed over the last 150 years. This article and infographic explore the history of energy use and what the sustainable future may look like.

We no longer have to gather firewood for our wood-burning stoves to keep us warm at night, but there are a variety of energy sources used in each home. Most homes in the U.S. run on either electricity or natural gas, or a combination of both, but homeowners may also employ solar panels or even residential wind-powered solutions too. 

Looking at the charts below, you can see that energy consumption has grown significantly each year and in 2018, it hit an all-time high. However, you’ll notice some changes in the way we use each energy source. Coal is the only energy source below that has suffered a decline and renewable energy has recently surpassed nuclear energy. As new technologies are developed, we are finding new ways to meet the increased energy demand. The future of energy consumption will look very different than it does today.

home energy use infographic

Where does energy in US come from?
By no surprise, oil has been the largest and most popular source of energy. Since the 1950s, oil and natural gas were used to heat homes. Now in 2020, you know that petroleum is used for many other reasons and industries, from powering our cars to packaging products in plastic. 

Although coal was another popular source of energy, it has been on the decline for the last few decades. It’s less efficient than other sources and negatively impacts the environment. To answer that problem, the U.S. has been investing in renewable energy sources. Wind, solar, and geothermal energy are proving to be great resources for a clean future.

Are renewables the future?
Although only 11% of U.S. energy production comes from renewable sources, it is expected to grow. Solar, wind, and geothermal technology energy are three of the top sources for renewable energy. Among those, wind is the fastest growing and judging from the production map, it has wide geographic potential as well. Geothermal energy, which uses underground temperatures to transfer energy, is becoming a popular alternative for home heating and cooling. Of course, residential solar panels are gaining wide adoption as well. As renewable energy options become more available, the energy consumption landscape is likely to move toward a more sustainable future. 

This infographic from The Zebra walks through the history of energy use, where energy is produced, and what the future of energy may look like.
Author bio: Amanda Tallent is a writer who covers everything from business to lifestyle. She creates content to help people live more informed and confident lives. 
Want to write guest blog for us? See guidelines here