Where is iron in erionite? A multidisciplinary study on fibrous erionite-Na from Jersey (Nevada, USA)
Fibrous erionite is a mineral fibre of great concern but to date mechanisms by which it induces cyto- and geno-toxic damage, and especially the role of iron associated to this zeolite species, remain poorly understood. One of the reasons is that we still don’t know exactly where iron is in natural erionite. This work is focused on fibrous erionite-Na from Jersey (Nevada, USA) and attempts to draw a general model of occurrence of iron in erionite and relationship with toxicity mechanisms. It was found that iron is present as 6-fold coordinated Fe 3+ not part of the zeolite structure. The heterogeneous nature of the sample was revealed as receptacle of different iron-bearing impurities (amorphous iron-rich nanoparticles, micro-particles of iron oxides/hydroxides, and flakes of nontronite). If iron is not part of the structure, its role should be considered irrelevant for erionite toxicity, and other factors like biopersistence should be invoked. An alternative perspective to the proposed model is that iron rich nano-particles and nontronite dissolve in the intracellular acidic environment, leaving a residue of iron atoms at specific surface sites anchored to the windows of the zeolite channels. These sites may be active later as low nuclearity groups.
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