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What Is Attapulgite?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Attapulgite is a clay mineral with a broad spectrum of uses. Natural resources firms can extract it with surface mining techniques and process it in a variety of ways, depending on how it will be used. Major deposits exist in regions, including the state of Georgia in the United States. It has a distinctive grayish-blue color that made it a popular pigment for art and pottery projects with some American Indian communities. In addition to its use in making pottery, it also has a range of medicinal uses.

Chemically, attapulgite is comprised of magnesium aluminum phyllosilicate, and it may have varying impurities depending on the source. It can be processed to produce a variety of clays with different physical structures, containing needles or particles of silicate. Companies that work with this material typically offer a range of products for their customers and can produce clay for special needs by request from their customers.

One use for this clay is in medicine. Attapulgite is very absorptive and may be given to patients with diarrhea. It can soak up some of the water to firm the stool and make the patient feel more comfortable, in addition to reducing the risk of dehydration. The clay can also cut down the bacterial population of the gut, for patients with diarrhea caused by an intestinal infection. This use has ancient origins in regions like South America, where the Maya took advantage of this useful quality in their traditional medical practice.

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The absorptive nature of this product also makes it useful for animal bedding like cat litter, as well as other applications where absorption is needed to handle messes and spills. Powdered clay can be ground to make suspensions for liquid fertilizers and paints. It is also used in the production of drilling mud for oil and gas applications. Drilling muds provide lubrication for a variety of drilling activities, with formulations that can depend on the setting and the conditions.

Suppliers of attapulgite typically sell it in bulk to manufacturers who process it further to make commercial products. It is sometimes possible to buy raw batches of clay through some suppliers, for companies that need to make attapulgite products and cannot order batches large enough to work directly through producers. Trade associations may also work with mining companies to purchase batches for distribution to their members. This allows companies to access bulk pricing without having to order in the volumes necessary for manufacturer delivery.

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