2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 12
Presentation Time: 4:45 PM


ANDREWS, Sarah, PO Box 1521, Sebastopol, CA 95473, Sarah.Andrews@ebagroup.com

All geologists worth their salt know that the science and practice of geology is connected to every other science. The expression “worth their salt” proves my point: The human body needs salt to be healthy; salt is a mined, geologic material; geologists explore for and manage mineral resources; and any geologist who has survived Geo 101 knows that “salt” is halite, only one of many minerals chemists refer to as salts. It only follows that our knowledge and talents supports human health through identifying that most subtle of geologic hazards, the naturally-occurring poison. There is a moral to this geologic cheer-leading: That which seems obvious to geologists may be news to those trained in other professions. As a case in point, I present my own poisonous example from Earth Colors, the ninth in my series of forensic geology mystery novels. My thought was to present the observation that most artistic media are geologic materials, including artists' pigments, which by definition have been until very recently a) insoluble mineral materials, most commonly salts, and b) quite often salts of highly toxic heavy metals. To document my assertion, I went to the most learned texts. I found histories of the use of naturally-occurring and man-made inorganic materials as artists' pigments. I found recent books which warned artists of the risks of handling these toxins. I found detailed texts demonstrating that art conservators have knowledge and use equipment that rival the FBI Trace Evidence lab. But I had to pull a mineralogy text off my own bookshelf and search obscure websites to organize an understanding that connected and unified the mining of mineral pigments to the historic development of the use of these minerals as pigments to their chemical and therefore toxic natures.