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Is Hydrated Silica Bad for the Environment?

Silica is a compound of silicon and oxygen that exists practically everywhere on the Earth’s surface, particularly in rocks and water. It is widely distributed among soil, beach sand, granite, quartzite, dolomite, etc…Because silica occurs naturally as sand, it can give some degree of alkalinity to the soil. But is hydrated silica bad for the environment?

What is hydrated silica?

Set of Skin Care Products

Hydrated silica is the chemical compound silicon dioxide (SiO2) usually found as opal, agate, flint, and quartz. Silicon dioxide is abundant in nature and often occurs as an ingredient of many rock types; it makes up around 60% by weight of common sand. Silica is one of the most complex chemical compounds commonly found in nature.

Silica can be either crystalline or non-crystalline, which is also known as glassy silica.

Crystalline silicon dioxide has two modifications: alpha and beta. The most common mineral forms of quartz are alpha quartz (trigonal crystal system) and beta quartz (rhombohedral crystal system). The alpha form can be found in a pure form as a high-pressure mineral called seifertite.

Hydrated silicon dioxide (SiO2) is known as silica, but it also goes by some other names like beach sand or quartz; chemically, however, they are all the same thing. It has no color, but it can sometimes look pinkish to brown depending on where it comes from. It may also contain traces of other minerals which give it a different color.

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What are the uses of hydrated silica?

Toothpaste

Hydrated silica, or just silica for short, is used in the creation of glass and cosmetic formulations. It is also an ingredient in human body products like cosmetic products, body scrubs, and toothpaste. A large number of people use a product containing silica daily without even realizing it!

Other common uses include fishing sinkers, sandpaper, polishing compounds, and stone countertops like granite and marble.

Non-crystalline silica (also called opal) is used to create pottery, china, porcelain, and linoleum flooring.

It can also be found as a filler in paint, rubber tires, insulation materials, and the manufacture of bricks, tiles, and other construction materials. In addition to these uses, some types of flour and rice are mixed with silica to improve storage times and reduce spoilage.

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What problems does silica cause in cosmetics?

Skin Care

Silica is used in cosmetic formulations because it helps absorb excess oil and sebum. This can be a problem for some people, however, as silica has been known to cause problems such as itching and skin irritation when used on the skin or hair. Hair products containing silica also sometimes leave an unattractive white residue behind after use.

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What are good alternatives to silica cosmetics?

Many manufacturers are now using the most environmentally friendly alternative organic absorbent ingredients like rice starch, tapioca starch, and other natural products as new cosmetic formulations that do not cause irritation and itching. Some cosmetics may also use kaolin or bentonite instead of silica, but these clays can still be drying to the skin and hair.

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Are there any potentially hidden environmental costs in using silica?

In its natural form, silica does not usually harm the environment as it has little bioactivity. In some cases, however, mining for this material can cause environmental issues by disturbing or destroying ecosystems and releasing greenhouse gases through mining equipment contributing to ozone depletion.

Even then, these damages can be corrected by treating contaminated water and soil to remove residual pollutants from mining processes.

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Effects of hydrated silica on environmental and human health

Hair Care Products

Silica is water-soluble and plants need it to survive, but it can become a problem if the concentration of silica in the soil becomes too high.

When the concentration of silica in the soil is too high, plants will start to absorb it instead of nutrients. In this case, the plants will become very pale, yellowed, and wilted. It may die if the condition persists for a long time.

Soil contains some amorphous (non-crystalline) silica which is not considered harmful; however, it appears that plants tend to discriminate between these two forms of silica, preferring the amorphous form.

Silicon dioxide does not pose a threat to human health as long as it is used in appropriate amounts and occurs as sand, quartz, or other natural forms. Although there are no known effects of hydrated silica on human health at low environmental doses.

Silica dust may cause respiratory problems such as silicosis. Silicosis refers to lung diseases caused by breathing in dust containing crystalline silica. The main cause is long-term exposure to respirable free crystalline silica which affects the upper respiratory tract and lungs.

The toxicity of silica is affected by many factors including its chemical form, dose, route of exposure, duration of exposure, etc. The most significant effects are produced in the lungs after inhalation or ingestion. Toxicity can be related to dose, duration of exposure, and route of exposure.

Establishing safe levels for silica is difficult because the effects are cumulative and depend on many factors such as chemical makeup and the size of particles.

There has been much debate over the health effects of inhaling very fine dust, particularly in mines and quarries where high concentrations occur. Some people claim that the high levels of silica contribute to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

It is generally agreed that the more crystalline (ground) silica you breathe, the worse for your health.

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Effects of hydrated silica mining?

Although silica is naturally occurring. Some unforeseen environmental impacts are associated with poor environmental alternative mining processes. The material is often recovered from open pits, quarries, or mines.

When breaking rocks for silica sand, dust can be created and this may contain harmful substances such as crystalline free silicon dioxide (CSD) which increases the risk of developing respiratory diseases like silicosis.

In some locations, the use of explosives during mining can harm local wildlife through noise and vibration or by releasing dust into the air.

Industrial silica mining can damage ecosystems if there are not adequate environmental regulations in place to limit its effects.

In Europe, the Environmental Directive on Industrial Emissions requires that all industrial sources of air pollution have an environmental credentials permit, which sets emission levels and provides for reduction measures.

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Is hydrated silica poisonous?

Silica or silicic acid, and the closely related substances calcium silicate (chalk) and sodium silicate (water glass), are not poisonous and nontoxic. They do not have any chemical reaction with other food ingredients, even of opposite strong character.

Silica is naturally occurring in nature.

In animals, only a few cases of poisoning of several thousand animals were reported after feeding silicate.

Silica is not considered an environmental toxin, but it can become a problem if the concentration of silica is too high.

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Is hydrated silica bad for the environment?

Silicon dioxide does not pose a threat to human health as long as it is used in appropriate amounts and occurs as sand, quartz, or other natural forms. Establishing safe levels for silica is difficult because the effects are cumulative and depend on many factors. 

While hydrated silicon dioxide is bad for your health, it also has a health benefit but consuming too much of anything isn’t good either! The recommended daily value (RDA) of silica is set at a modest 25g. To achieve this same health benefit, you would have to eat 272g of fruits or vegetables or 186g of whole-grain breakfast cereal.

In conclusion, hydrated silicon dioxide is bad for the environment and human health when exposed continuously in large quantities. However, it is important to note that both are important to us in small, healthy doses.

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Final Thoughts

You might be wondering why you can find silica in shampoos and cosmetics, but many people don’t know that it is also found naturally in the environment.

Found primarily in soil and sediments, hydrated silica does not come from fracking or any other human activity.

We use this compound on most of our daily products, well there’s nothing wrong with that but regulating the processes like using biodegradable plastics for packaging alternatives to prevent environmental costs and help in eliminating plastic waste.

And mining should be performed in should be monitored strictly. There are also environmentally friendly alternative products we can try.

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