Is Bumblebee Jasper Toxic? ūü§Ē

Is Bumblebee Jasper Toxic?

Bumblebee Jasper is not toxic in and of itself. However, it does contain a number of toxic compounds, most notably, arsenic sulfide (A2S4) in the form of realgar and its decomposed form, pararealgar. The risk of toxicity arises when these compounds are ingested. However, many of us don't go around licking crystals or eating them for fun (that I know of at least!)

Whenever the topic of toxicity arises, humans naturally react in fear.

Toxic compounds are present in many minerals and stones. The International Gem Society (IGS) notes that Pyrite also bears high risk for toxicity due to its iron content. However, we don't hear much about that. 

 

What makes a crystal toxic?

Back when I studied Biomedicine, our pharmacology unit introduced us to the topic of toxicity. The definition of toxicity & its associated concepts may surprise you!

Toxicity is determined by three factors:

The Dose: How much of the substance/compound are we being exposed to?

Bioavailability: How easily is the substance/compound absorbed by the body?

Detoxification & Removal: Can the body easily detoxify & eliminate the substance/compound? (Yes! Our bodies can do that!)

Let's look at water:

Water is easily absorbed by human cells through a process known as osmosis and is excreted (removed) by the kidneys & urinary systems from the body. When consumed in large quantities, water can be considered to be 'toxic' even though smaller quantities of it are considered beneficial to the body.

Remember toxicity also considers how efficiently the body can remove the substance from the body as well as the inherent harmful nature of a substance. Since water is easily eliminated from the body via the urinary system, and moreover, is not inherently harmful to the body. 

It must be noted that in a study by the Gemmological Association of Great Britan that "no area of BBS [Bumblebee Jasper that they] analysed consisted of pure realgar". 

While realgar is toxic, no area within the stone samples analysed had 100% pure forms of realgar in the stone. This makes logical sense as realgar readily decomposes to pararealgar. 

Fun fact - realgar has been used in Chinese Herbal Medicine for centuries. It has recently been tested in clinical trials as a potential therapeutic for targeting tumor-causing cells in cancer patients. However, many side effects were reported with its overuse and issues with dose.

Bioavailability: How easily is the substance/compound absorbed by the body?

How bioavailable is realgar?

As to the bioavailability of realgar, "it is known that a significant portion of some forms of mineral [arsenic containing compounds are] poorly absorbed into the body, and would be unavailable to cause systemic [significant, widespread] damage". 

The greatest issue with realgar/pararealgar toxicity arises when we consider long term exposure to the substance such as through ingestion of BBJ dust particles. Long term exposure without wearing appropriate safety equipment while being exposed to the dust of the stone can result in arsenic poisoning. 

However, discussions around exposure to realgar is mostly in reference to oral intake of the substance - meaning the individual would have to ingest a concentrated form of the substance such as through eating it. There is no extensive discussion on the effects of realgar exposure as in Bumblebee Jasper mining & processing through breathing in the respiratory tract. Other than that, it is an irritant to the airways - as many other dust particles are.  

Is it safe to touch Bumblebee Jasper?

The answer depends on the situation.

Is the stone in raw or polished form? Overall, the common material we come across in polished form is completely safe to handle through touch. 

Bumblebee Jasper in the raw form bears greater risk for potential contact with its toxic compounds. However, handling the raw form (which has minimal to no dust present) is perfectly safe to handle provided you wash your hands after touching it.

As mentioned above, the risk arises with repeated, long-term exposure to dust particles of Bumblebee Jasper (such as individuals who cut and/or polish the stone). A study over 30 years in China also revealed that arsenic poisoning and/or death occurred in correlation with oral ingestion of realgar - rather than topical application which was reported to be very rare. Hypothetically, this means that an individual would have to consume a significant quantity of Bumblebee Jasper in powder form to be at a high risk of experiencing realgar toxicity vs an individual who had a concentrated amount of the same substance applied to their skin. Both circumstances of which would not occur in a typical crystal processing scenario (full article linked in references).

Physical touch of the raw form without washing hands poses a risk for potential ingestion. Exposure to arsenic compounds in this manner would be insignificant compared to those who handle the raw material and inhale it in the process of mining, cutting & polishing, frequently and without protection. 

The polished form is perfectly safe to touch. The potential for contact with loose particles containing realgar or pararealgar is significantly minimised through the effective "sealing off" that occurs during the polishing process. Meaning there are no loose particles for the individual to interact with and potentially ingest.

 

The condensed version:

Bumblebee Jasper does contain toxic compounds one of them being several arsenic sulphide containing compounds: realgar and pararealgar.

Arsenic sulphide is toxic, but it is not well absorbed by the cells in our body enough to cause damage in all body systems (low bioavailability).

The greatest risk is to those who experience repeated exposure to the dust particles of Bumblebee Jasper such as miners, carvers & lapidarists. 

Caution should always be exercised when dealing with this substance such as through the washing of hands after handling raw Bumblebee Jasper and wearing the appropriate PPE (i.e. well-ventilated mask) during the mining and processing of the material (cutting & polishing).

References 

- Journal Digest: Bumble Bee Stone from Indonesia (gem-a.com) 

- Document1 (uc.edu)

- Fatal acute arsenic poisoning by external use of realgar: Case report and 30 years literature retrospective study in China - ScienceDirect