Pumice mining on Lipari



Lipari has a lot of pumice. This Pumice was sold to many countries. Unesco wanted to add Lipari to the list of protected sites. For that they required to close the pumice mine. Many lost their job and today the mine area is a dangerous place. I learned about the story of pumice mining and the degrade today in a article of Carlo Cavazzuti published in his nice italian  blog narraredistoria.com

I tried to get a work as system manager at the mining company a few years before it closed. A manager made for me a nice presentation of how pumice is used around the world. I am lucky I did accept that job as I would have been without work after a few years.

A good friend of mine on Lipari worked at the mine and got silicosis He had to leave the mine to work in the harbour.

I decided to share some information about pumice in this page.




Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, Volume 3 says:

Pumice is a porous rock, grey or white, fragile and of low specific gravity, coming from recent volcanic magma;

it is composed of quartz and silicates (mainly feldspar). It is found either pure or mixed with various substances, chief among them obsidian, which differs by its shiny black colour and its specific gravity, which is four times greater.

It occurs principally in Ethiopia, Germany, Hungary, Italy (Sicily, Lipari), Madagascar, Spain and the United States. Some varieties, such as Lipari pumice, have a high content of total silica 71.2 to 73.7%) and a fair amount of free silica (1.2 to 5%).

As tere is so much silica in pumice I add this subtitle:


Silica and its use

https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Silicon-dioxide says:

Silica is another name for the chemical compound composed of silicon and oxygen with the chemical formula SiO2, or silicon dioxide. There are many forms of silica. All silica forms are identical in chemical composition, but have different atom arrangements.

Silica compounds can be divided into two groups, crystalline (or c-silica) and amorphous silica (a-silica or non-crystalline silica).

  • c-Silica compounds have structures with repeating patterns of silicon and oxygen.
  • a-Silica chemical structures are more randomly linked when compared to c-silica. All forms of silica are odorless solids composed of silicon and oxygen atoms.

Silica particles become suspended in air and form non-explosive dusts. Silica may combine with other metallic elements and oxides to form silicates.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17435954 says:
it has been shown that the performances to a cognitive test were positively correlated to the consumption of silica and that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was reduced in subjects who had the higher daily silica intake compared to the others. The silica is probably the natural antidote of the aluminium and could play a benefit role by decreasing the biodisponibility of aluminium, whose neurotoxicity is now clearly established.

Recent progress are done in applications of diatoms and silica nanomaterials in biosensing, drug and gene delivery, and formation of complex metal nanostructures. (Source; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165993611002032 )


Silicosis or Liparosis

Wiki says

Silicosis is a form of occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust. It is marked by inflammation and scarring in the form of nodular lesions in the upper lobes of the lungs. It is a type of pneumoconiosis.[4] Silicosis (particularly the acute form) is characterized by shortness of breath, cough, fever, and cyanosis (bluish skin). It may often be misdiagnosed as pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), pneumonia, or tuberculosis.

With industrialization, as opposed to hand tools, came increased production of dust. The pneumatic hammer drill was introduced in 1897 and sandblasting was introduced in about 1904,[8] both significantly contributing to the increased prevalence of silicosis.

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health published a article about pumice and silicosis in 1954:


History of pumice mining

I invite you to read the article of Carlo Cavazzuti published in his nice Italian  blog narraredistoria.com. If you have difficulties to get the text in your language I have a copy of the history part with a google translate button on http://www.kireus.com/wordpress/lipari/la-pomice/

toHere are some main parts translated in English.

export of obsidian and pumice in the Neolithic age

 The history of the pumice quarry in the Aeolian islands, and in particular on the greater one of Lipari, dates back to the Neolithic when the islands already exported, if in the Neolithic one can speak of real export, obsidian and pumice on the smaller sisters and on the island greater. 

The extraction and trade of this volcanic stone was formally noted for the first time on 18 May 1276 when King Charles of Anjou authorized the bishop of Lipari (since the time of the Norman domination lord of the Aeolian Islands) to export and trade beyond sulfur and alum also pumice.

Lipari pumice for construction of the Pantheon in Rome

The quarrying estimates of those early years of commerce are around 100-200 tons per year.  Lipari’s pumice spreads in Europe without brakes, both for cosmetics and for construction, so much so that it was used for the construction of the hemispherical dome of the Chapel of Santa Maria del Fiore, in Florence (some, without certain proof, claim that it was already so famous as to be used for the construction of the dome of the Pantheon in Rome in 120 AD).

The  church of Saint Cristopher,  a shelter from barbarian attacks

The Lipari  village of Canneto, at the time of 1200 called Baia della Calandra, being not far from the main mining area, developed strongly under the pressure of the quarrymen and transporters who together with the fishermen already lived on site, so much so that in 1596

it was founded by Bishop Juan Pedro González de Mendoza a small church dedicated to San Cristoforo (which later became a minor Roman basilica in the following centuries) known at the time as the protector of porters and porters. The small church, the fulcrum of the life of the village, was initially also used as a shelter from the attacks of Barbary pirates who found a good landing point in that area to prey on the mineral resource much appreciated also abroad.

Lipari, the pumice warehouse for all of Europe

The natural resource extracted in Lipari was so strongly requested and so well known that in the centuries following the Middle Ages even international scientists became interested in the matter. Déodat de Dolomieu (the one who gave the name to the Dolomites, the most common stone in the Dolomites that take their name from this rock) in 1781 states that Lipari is “the immense warehouse that supplies pumice to all of Europe” and seven years later the Modenese Lazzaro Spallanzani says that in Lipari “Italian, French and other nations ships are available to load this goods”.

Pumice mine and silicosis

Along with modernity and new machines, medicine also arrived and there were many recognized cases of silicosis throughout Lipari. Not that the workers and miners didn’t die of it first, but now,  with the new medical tests, it was known what was the fault of that excruciating cough that affects almost all workers who live the job in inhuman conditions.

Workers may have worked long time with damaged lungs as contacted doctors tprobably misdiagnosed the workers symptoms as pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), pneumonia, or tuberculosis

Read more about silicosis above









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