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Diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth ( /ˌdaɪ.ətəˌmeɪʃəs ˈɜːrθ/), also known
as D.E., diatomite, or kieselgur/kieselguhr, is a
naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is
easily crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder. It has a
particle size ranging from less than 3 micrometres to more
than 1 millimetre, but typically 10 to 200 micrometres.
Depending on the granularity, this powder can have an
abrasive feel, similar to pumice powder, and has a low
density as a result of its high porosity. The typical chemical
composition of oven-dried diatomaceous earth is 80 to 90%
silica, with 2 to 4% alumina (attributed mostly to clay
minerals) and 0.5 to 2% iron oxide.[1]
A sample of food-grade diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms,
a type of hard-shelled protist (chrysophytes). It is used as a
filtration aid, mild abrasive in products including metal polishes and toothpaste, mechanical insecticide, absorbent for
liquids, matting agent for coatings, reinforcing filler in plastics and rubber, anti-block in plastic films, porous support
for chemical catalysts, cat litter, activator in blood clotting studies, a stabilizing component of dynamite, and a thermal
insulator.

Contents
Geology and occurrence
Composition
Formation
Discovery
Extraction and storage sites in the Lüneburg Heath
Other deposits
Applications
Explosives
Filtration
Abrasive
Pest control
Thermal
Catalyst support
Use in agriculture
Marker in livestock nutrition experiments
Construction

Specific varieties
Microbial degradation
Climatologic importance
Safety considerations
See also
References

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External links

Geology and occurrence

Composition
Each deposit of diatomaceous earth is different, with varying
blends of pure diatomaceous earth combined with other
natural clays and minerals. The diatoms in each deposit
contain different amounts of silica, depending on the age of
the deposit. The species of diatom may also differ among
deposits. The species of diatom is dependent upon the age
and paleo-environment of the deposit. In turn, the shape of a
diatom is determined by its species. Diatomaceous earth as viewed under bright field
illumination on a light microscope. Diatomaceous
Many deposits throughout British Columbia, Canada, such as earth is made up of the cell walls/shells of single
cell diatoms and readily crumbles to a fine
Red Lake Earth, are from the Miocene age and contain a
powder. Diatom cell walls are made up of
species of diatom known as Melosira granulata. These
biogenic silica; silica synthesised in the diatom
diatoms are approximately 12 to 13 million years old and cell by the polymerisation of silicic acid. This
have a small globular shape. A deposit containing diatoms image of diatomaceous earth particles in water is
from this age can provide many more benefits than that of an at a scale of 6.236 pixels/μm, the entire image
older deposit. For example, diatoms from the Eocene age covers a region of approximately 1.13 by
0.69 mm.
(approximately 40 to 50 million years old) are not as effective
in their ability to absorb fluids because older diatoms
recrystallize, their small pores becoming filled with silica.[2]

Formation
Diatomite forms by the accumulation of the amorphous silica (opal, SiO2·nH2O) remains of dead diatoms
(microscopic single-celled algae) in lacustrine or marine sediments. The fossil remains consist of a pair of symmetrical
shells or frustules.[1]

Discovery
In 1836 or 1837, the peasant and goods waggoner Peter Kasten discovered diatomaceous earth (German: Kieselgur)
when sinking a well on the northern slopes of the Haußelberg hill, in the Lüneburg Heath in north Germany. Initially,
it was thought that limestone had been found, which could be used as fertilizer.

Extraction and storage sites in the Lüneburg Heath


Neuohe – extraction from 1863 to 1994
Wiechel from 1871 to 1978
Hützel from 1876 to 1969
Hösseringen from ca. 1880 to 1894
Hammerstorf from ca. 1880 to 1920
Oberohe from 1884 to 1970
Schmarbeck from 1896 to ca. 1925
Steinbeck from 1897 to 1928
Breloh from 1907 to 1975

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Schwindebeck from 1913 to 1973


Hetendorf from 1970 to 1994
The deposits are up to 28 metres (92 ft) thick and are all of freshwater diatomaceous earth.

ca. 1900–1910 ca. 1900–1910 a drying 1913 Staff at the Neuohe


Diatomaceous earth pit at area: one firing pile is being factory, with workers and a
Neuohe prepared; another is under female cook in front of a
way drying shed

Until the First World War almost the entire worldwide production of diatomaceous earth was from this region.

Other deposits
In Germany, diatomaceous earth was also extracted at Altenschlirf[3] on the Vogelsberg (Upper Hesse) and at
Klieken[4] (Saxony-Anhalt).

There is a layer of diatomaceous earth up to 4 metres (13 ft) thick in the nature reserve of Soos in the Czech Republic.

Deposits on the isle of Skye, off the west coast of Scotland, were mined until 1960.[5]

In Colorado and in Clark County, Nevada, United States, there are deposits that are up to several hundred metres thick
in places. Marine deposits have been worked in the Sisquoc Formation in Santa Barbara County, California near
Lompoc and along the Southern California coast. Additional marine deposits have been worked in Maryland, Virginia,
Algeria and the MoClay of Denmark. Freshwater lake deposits occur in Nevada, Oregon, Washington and California.
Lake deposits also occur in interglacial lakes in the eastern United States, in Canada and in Europe in Germany,
France, Denmark and the Czech Republic. The worldwide association of diatomite deposits and volcanic deposits
suggests that the availability of silica from volcanic ash may be necessary for thick diatomite deposits.[6]

Sometimes diatomaceous earth is found on the surfaces of deserts. Research has shown that the erosion of
diatomaceous earth in such areas (such as the Bodélé Depression in the Sahara) is one of the most important sources
of climate-affecting dust in the atmosphere.

The siliceous frustules of diatoms accumulate in fresh and brackish wetlands and lakes. Some peats and mucks contain
a sufficient abundance of frustules that they can be mined. Most of Florida’s diatomaceous earths have been found in
the muck of wetlands or lakes. The American Diatomite Corporation, from 1935 to 1946, refined a maximum of 145
tons per year from their processing plant near Clermont, Florida. Muck from several locations in Lake County, Florida
was dried and burned (calcined) to produce the diatomaceous earth.[7]

The commercial deposits of diatomite are restricted to Tertiary or Quaternary periods. Older deposits from as early as
the Cretaceous Period are known, but are of low quality.[6]

Applications
Diatomaceous earth is available commercially in several formats:

granulated diatomaceous earth is a raw material simply crushed for convenient packaging

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milled or micronized diatomaceous earth is especially fine (10 µm to 50 µm) and used for insecticides.
calcined diatomaceous earth is heat-treated and activated for filters.

Explosives
In 1866, Alfred Nobel discovered that nitroglycerin could be made much
more stable if absorbed in diatomite. This allows much safer transport and
handling than nitroglycerin in its raw form. He patented this mixture as
dynamite in 1867; the mixture is also called guhr dynamite.

Filtration
The Celle engineer Wilhelm Berkefeld recognized the ability of
diatomaceous earth to filter, and he developed tubular filters (known as
filter candles) fired from diatomaceous earth.[8] During the cholera Individual diatom cell walls often
epidemic in Hamburg in 1892, these Berkefeld filters were used maintain their shape even in
commercially processed filter media,
successfully. One form of diatomaceous earth is used as a filter medium,
such as this one for swimming pools
especially for swimming pools. It has a high porosity because it is
composed of microscopically small, hollow particles. Diatomaceous earth
(sometimes referred to by trademarked brand names such as Celite) is
used in chemistry as a filtration aid, to filter very fine particles that would
otherwise pass through or clog filter paper. It is also used to filter water,
particularly in the drinking water treatment process and in fish tanks, and
other liquids, such as beer and wine. It can also filter syrups, sugar, and
honey without removing or altering their color, taste, or nutritional
properties.[9]

Live marine diatoms from Antarctica


(magnified)
Abrasive
The oldest use of diatomite is as a very mild abrasive and, for this purpose,
it has been used both in toothpaste and in metal polishes, as well as in some facial scrubs.

Pest control
Diatomite is used as an insecticide, due to its abrasive and physico-sorptive properties.[10] The fine powder absorbs
lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. Arthropods die as a result of the
water pressure deficiency, based on Fick's law of diffusion. This also works against gastropods and is commonly
employed in gardening to defeat slugs. However, since slugs inhabit humid environments, efficacy is very low. It is
sometimes mixed with an attractant or other additives to increase its effectiveness. The shape of the diatoms contained
in a deposit has not been proven to affect their functionality when it comes to the absorption of liquids; however,
certain applications, such as that for slugs and snails, do work best when a particular shaped diatom is used. For
example, in the case of slugs and snails large, spiny diatoms work best to lacerate the epithelium of the mollusk.
Diatom shells will work to some degree on the vast majority of animals that undergo ecdysis in shedding cuticle, such
as arthropods or nematodes. It may have some effect also on lophotrochozoans, such as mollusks or annelids.

Medical-grade diatomite has been studied for its efficacy as a deworming agent in cattle; in both studies cited the
groups being treated with diatomaceous earth did not fare any better than control groups.[11][12] It is commonly used
in lieu of boric acid, and can be used to help control and possibly eliminate bed bug, house dust mite, cockroach, ant
and flea infestations.[13] This material has wide application for insect control in grain storage.[14]

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In order to be effective as an insecticide, diatomaceous earth must be uncalcinated (i.e., it must not be heat-treated
prior to application)[15] and have a mean particle size below about 12 µm (i.e., food-grade – see below).

Although considered to be relatively low-risk, pesticides containing diatomaceous earth are not exempt from
regulation in the United States under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and must be registered
with the Environmental Protection Agency.[16]

Thermal
Its thermal properties enable it to be used as the barrier material in some fire resistant safes. It is also used in
evacuated powder insulation for use with cryogenics.[17] Diatomaceous earth powder is inserted into the vacuum space
to aid in the effectiveness of vacuum insulation. It was used in the Classical AGA Cookers as a thermal heat barrier.

Catalyst support
Diatomaceous earth also finds some use as a support for catalysts, generally serving to maximize a catalyst's surface
area and activity. For example, nickel can be supported on the material – the combination is called Ni–Kieselguhr – to
improve its activity as a hydrogenation catalyst.[18]

Use in agriculture
Natural freshwater diatomaceous earth is used in agriculture for grain storage as an anticaking agent, as well as an
insecticide.[19] It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a feed additive[20] to prevent caking.

Some believe it may be used as a natural anthelmintic (dewormer), although studies have not shown it to be
effective.[11][12] Some farmers add it to their livestock and poultry feed to prevent the caking of feed.[21] "Food Grade
Diatomaceous Earth" is widely available in agricultural feed supply stores.

Freshwater diatomite can be used as a growing medium in hydroponic gardens.

It is also used as a growing medium in potted plants, particularly as bonsai soil. Bonsai enthusiasts use it as a soil
additive, or pot a bonsai tree in 100% diatomaceous earth. In vegetable gardening it is sometimes used as a soil
conditioner, because like perlite, vermiculite, and expanded clay, it retains water and nutrients, while draining fast
and freely, allowing high oxygen circulation within the growing medium.

Marker in livestock nutrition experiments


Natural dried, not calcined diatomaceous earth is regularly used in livestock nutrition research as a source of acid
insoluble ash (AIA), which is used as an indigestible marker. By measuring the content of AIA relative to nutrients in
test diets and feces or digesta sampled from the terminal ileum (last third of the small intestine) the percentage of that
nutrient digested can be calculated using the following equation:

Where:
N is the nutrient digestibility (%)
Nf is the amount of nutrients in the feces (%)
NF is the amount of nutrients in the feed (%)
Af is the amount of AIA in the feces (%)
AF is the amount of AIA in the feed (%)

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Natural freshwater diatomaceous earth is preferred by many researchers over chromic oxide, which has been widely
used for the same purpose, the latter being a known carcinogen and, therefore, a potential hazard to research
personnel.

Construction
Spent diatomaceous earth from the brewing process can be added to ceramic mass for the production of red bricks
with higher open porosity.[22]

Specific varieties
Tripolite is the variety found in Tripoli, Libya.
Bann clay is the variety found in the Lower Bann valley in Northern Ireland.
Moler (Mo-clay) is the variety found in northwestern Denmark, especially on the islands of Fur and Mors.
Freshwater-derived food grade diatomaceous earth is the type used in United States agriculture for grain
storage, as feed supplement, and as an insecticide. It is produced uncalcinated, has a very fine particle size, and
is very low in crystal silica (<2%).
Salt-water-derived pool/ beer/ wine filter grade is not suitable for human consumption or effective as an
insecticide. Usually calcinated before being sold to remove impurities and undesirable volatile contents, it is
composed of larger particles than the freshwater version and has a high crystalline silica content (>60%).

Microbial degradation
Certain species of bacteria in oceans and lakes can accelerate the rate of dissolution of silica in dead and living
diatoms; by using hydrolytic enzymes to break down the organic algal material.[23][24]

Climatologic importance
The Earth's climate is affected by dust in the atmosphere, so locating major sources of atmospheric dust is important
for climatology. Recent research indicates that surface deposits of diatomaceous earth play an important role.
Research shows that significant dust comes from the Bodélé depression in Chad, where storms push diatomite gravel
over dunes, generating dust by abrasion.[25]

Safety considerations
Inhalation of crystalline silica is harmful to the lungs, causing silicosis. Amorphous silica is considered to have low
toxicity, but prolonged inhalation causes changes to the lungs.[26] Diatomaceous earth is mostly amorphous silica, but
contains some crystalline silica, especially in the saltwater forms.[27] In a study of workers, those exposed to natural
D.E. for over 5 years had no significant lung changes, while 40% of those exposed to the calcined form had developed
pneumoconiosis.[28] Today's common D.E. formulations are safer to use as they are predominantly made up of
amorphous silica and contain little or no crystalline silica.[29]

The crystalline silica content of D.E. is regulated in the United States by the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), and there are guidelines from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
setting maximum amounts allowable in the product (1%) and in the air near the breathing zone of workers, with a
recommended exposure limit at 6 mg/m3 over an 8-hour workday.[29] OSHA has set a permissible exposure limit for
diatomaceous earth as 20 mppcf (80 mg/m3/%SiO2). At levels of 3000 mg/m3, diatomaceous earth is immediately
dangerous to life and health.[30]

In the 1930s, long-term occupational exposure among workers in the cristobalite D.E. industry who were exposed to
high levels of airborne crystalline silica over decades were found to have an increased risk of silicosis.[31]

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Today, workers are required to use respiratory-protection measures when concentrations of silica exceed allowable
levels.

Diatomite produced for pool filters is treated with high heat (calcination) and a fluxing agent (soda ash), causing the
formerly harmless amorphous silicon dioxide to assume its crystalline form.[29]

See also
Biomineralization
Diatom
Frustule
Fuller's earth
Perlite
Rock flour
Silica aerogel
Siliceous ooze
Zeolite

References
1. Antonides, Lloyd E. (1997). Diatomite (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/diatomite/250497.pdf)
(PDF). U.S.G.S. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
2. "Diatoms" (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/GeolSci/micropal/diatom.html). UCL London's Global University. Retrieved
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3. "Archived copy" (https://web.archive.org/web/20070928020701/http://www2.natpa.de/bonifatius/senken/p7.htm).
Archived from the original (http://www2.natpa.de/bonifatius/senken/p7.htm) on September 28, 2007. Retrieved
2010-03-10. Über den früheren Abbau von Kieselgur im Vogelsberg/Hessen
4. Geschichte des Kieselgurabbaus in Klieken (http://homepages.compuserve.de/tmby100/kieselgur.htm) Archived
(https://web.archive.org/web/20080420063824/http://homepages.compuserve.de/tmby100/kieselgur.htm) April 20,
2008, at the Wayback Machine.
5. http://www.stornowaygazette.co.uk/what-s-on/leisure/skye-diatomite-a-lost-industry-1-118249
6. Cummins, Arthur B., Diatomite, in Industrial Minerals and Rocks, 3rd ed. 1960, American Institute of Mining,
Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, pp. 303–319
7. Davis, Jr., John H. (1946). The Peat Deposits of Florida Their Occurrence, Development and Uses, Geological
Bulletin No. 30. Florida Geological Survey.
8. ELGA Berkefeld Water Treatment History (http://www.berkefeld.com/en/company/history/)
9. Amos Ives Root; Ernest Rob Root (1 March 2005). The ABC And Xyz of Bee Culture (https://books.google.com/b
ooks?id=i0PoSYNEsh0C&pg=PA387&dq=diatomaceous+earth+%22does+not+remove%22). Kessinger
Publishing. p. 387. ISBN 978-1-4179-2427-1. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
10. Fields, Paul; Allen, Sylvia; Korunic, Zlatko; McLaughlin, Alan; Stathers, Tanya (July 2002). "Standardized testing
for diatomaceous earth" (http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~fieldspg/fields/fields-de-test-2002.pdf) (PDF). Proceedings
of the Eighth International Working Conference of Stored-Product Protection. York, U.K.: Entomological Society of
Manitoba.
11. Lartigue, E. del C.; Rossanigo, C. E. (2004). "Insecticide and anthelmintic assessment of diatomaceous earth in
cattle". Veterinaria Argentina. 21 (209): 660–674.
12. Fernandez, M. I.; Woodward, B. W.; Stromberg, B. E. (1998). "Effect of diatomaceous earth as an anthelmintic
treatment on internal parasites and feedlot performance of beef steers". Animal Science. 66 (3): 635–641.
doi:10.1017/S1357729800009206 (https://doi.org/10.1017%2FS1357729800009206).
13. Faulde, M. K.; Tisch, M.; Scharninghausen, J. J. (August 2006). "Efficacy of modified diatomaceous earth on
different cockroach species (Orthoptera, Blattellidae) and silverfish (Thysanura, Lepismatidae)". Journal of Pest
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14. "The Food Storage Faq – Specific Specifications" (http://www.survival-center.com/foodfaq/ff17-oxy.htm). Survival-
center.com. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
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15. Capinera, John L. (2008). "Diatomaceous earth". In Capinera, John L. Encyclopedia of Entomology (https://books.
google.com/books?id=i9ITMiiohVQC&lpg=PA1216&dq=%22diatomaceous%20earth%22%20insecticide%20size)
(Second ed.). Springer. p. 1216. ISBN 9781402062421.
16. "Pesticide Labeling Questions & Answers | Pesticide Labeling Consistency | US EPA" (http://www.epa.gov/pestici
des/regulating/labels/labels_faq/lr_faq_1.html). EPA. January 10, 2013. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
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[etc.: CRC, 2005. Print.
18. Nishimura, Shigeo (2001). Handbook of Heterogeneous Catalytic Hydrogenation for Organic Synthesis (https://bo
oks.google.com/books?id=RjZRAAAAMAAJ) (1st ed.). Newyork: Wiley-Interscience. pp. 2–5.
ISBN 9780471396987.
19. "Prevention and Management of Insects and Mites in Farm-Stored Grain" (https://web.archive.org/web/20131018
021402/http://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/cropproduction/faa06s00.html). Province of Manitoba. Archived
from the original (https://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/cropproduction/faa06s00.html) on October 18, 2013.
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20. "21 CFR 573.340 - Diatomaceous earth" (https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2001-title21-vol6/pdf/CFR-2001-titl
e21-vol6-sec573-340.pdf) (PDF). Code of Federal Regulations (annual edition)—Title 21 - Food and Drugs—Part
573 - Food additives permitted in feed and drinking water of animals—Section 573.340 - Diatomaceous earth.
Food and Drug Administration/U.S. Government Publishing Office. April 1, 2001. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
21. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) (http://www.sgggc.org/insect-management-food-processing-facilities-heat-diatomaceou
s-earth/)
22. Ferraz; et al. (2011). "Manufacture of ceramic bricks using recycled brewing spent kieselguhr". Materials and
Manufacturing Processes. 26 (10): 1319–1329. doi:10.1080/10426914.2011.551908 (https://doi.org/10.1080%2F1
0426914.2011.551908).
23. Kay D. Bidle; Farooq Azam (1999). "Accelerated dissolution of diatom silica by marine bacterial assemblages" (htt
p://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v397/n6719/abs/397508a0.html). Nature. 397: 508–512.
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oi.org/10.1038%2F17351).
24. "The Structure of Microbial Community and Degradation of Diatoms in the Deep Near-Bottom Layer of Lake
Baikal" (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0059977). 2013.
25. Washington, R.; Todd, M. C.; Lizcano, G.; Tegen, I.; et al. (2006). "Links between topography, wind, deflation,
lakes and dust: The case of the Bodélé Depression, Chad". Geophysical Research Letters. 33 (9).
Bibcode:2006GeoRL..33.9401W (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2006GeoRL..33.9401W).
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org/issn/0094-8276).
26. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pel88/68855-54.html
27. "Archived copy" (https://web.archive.org/web/20130717171434/http://www.spca.bc.ca/assets/documents/welfare/
professional-resources/farmer-resources/diatomaceous-earth-factsheet.pdf) (PDF). Archived from the original (htt
p://www.spca.bc.ca/assets/documents/welfare/professional-resources/farmer-resources/diatomaceous-earth-facts
heet.pdf) (PDF) on July 17, 2013. Retrieved November 9, 2013.
28. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/81-123/pdfs/0552.pdf
29. Inert Dusts (https://web.archive.org/web/20030710215341/http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/grsc_subi/Teaching/GRSC65
1/GRSC651_Courses_Material/lecture_slides/GRSC651_lect_20(1)_Inert_Dusts.pdf) at Kansas State University
30. "CDC - NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards - Silica, amorphous" (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd055
2.html). www.cdc.gov. Retrieved 2015-11-21.
31. Hughes, Janet M.; Weill, Hans; Checkoway, Harvey; Jones, Robert N.; Henry, Melanie M.; Heyer, Nicholas J.;
Seixas, Noah S.; Demers, Paul A. (1998). "Radiographic Evidence of Silicosis Risk in the Diatomaceous Earth
Industry". American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 158 (3): 807–814.
doi:10.1164/ajrccm.158.3.9709103 (https://doi.org/10.1164%2Fajrccm.158.3.9709103). ISSN 1073-449X (https://
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Occupational exposure to crystalline silica and autoimmune disease. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/P


MC1566238/)

External links
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International Chemical Safety Card 0248 (http://www.inchem.org/documents/icsc/icsc/eics0248.htm)


CDC – NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0552.html)
Diatomite: Statistics and Information – USGS (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/diatomite/)
Tripolite: Tripolite mineral data (http://www.mindat.org/min-9855.html) Citat: "...A diatomaceous earth consisting of
opaline silica..."
DIATOMACEOUS EARTH: A Non Toxic Pesticide (http://www.eap.mcgill.ca/publications/eap4.htm)

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