Zeolites, whatever the heck THOSE are

Sometimes being a librarian means working on questions for which you have no feel, no particular interest. Just focus on the bottom line.

zeolitesThis is more about the librarian life than the mineral group of zeolites. The library where I used to work got this reference question to find out about this substance that’s used in various commercial products, including, I’m told, dialysis machines. Since I am usually seeking the opportunity to broaden my horizons, and the question was near the top of the queue, I took it.

I discovered that the website of the United States Geological Survey has a National Minerals Information Center. From the page I needed: “Zeolites are hydrated aluminosilicates of the alkaline and alkaline-earth metals.” Yeah, right.

“Natural and synthetic zeolites are used commercially because of their unique adsorption, ion-exchange, molecular sieve, and catalytic properties. Major markets for natural zeolites are pet litter, animal feed, horticultural applications (soil conditioners and growth media), and wastewater treatment.”

I also checked with this site, which indicated that zeolites “are built of corner-linked tetrahedra and contain exchangeable cations.” Yet, an hour and a half later, I was not only finished, I knew I had useful information.

“In 2018, six companies in the United States operated nine zeolite mines and produced an estimated 95,000 tons of natural zeolites, a 15% increase from that of 2017… New Mexico was estimated to be the leading natural zeolite-producing State in 2018, followed by California, Idaho, Texas, Oregon, and Arizona.

“The top three U.S. companies accounted for approximately 90% of total domestic production. An estimated 93,000 tons of natural zeolites were sold in the United States during 2018, an increase of 14% compared with sales in 2017.” After finishing the inquiry, I went into the office of the library director and said, “I have no real idea what I just researched, but I know it’s good stuff.”

Sometimes being a librarian means working on questions for which you have no feel, no particular interest. Just focus on the bottom line, and ignore sentences such as “The most common [zeolites] are analcime, chabazite, clinoptilolite, erionite, ferrierite, heulandite, laumontite, mordenite, and phillipsite.”

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