The Dangers of Licking Rocks: And a Real Life Cautionary Tale

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In the fall of 2023, the rockhounding community experienced a real scare. One of the creators of the rockhounding YouTube channel AZ Rockhounding Expeditions became extremely ill and was hospitalized after he unknowingly ingested water that had been contaminated from rocks he was washing for an upcoming giveaway.

His wife, Julie, shares this vital piece of advice:

“Don’t lick rocks…and after you clean your rocks, always, always wash your hands, no matter what. Because you don’t know what kind of microorganisms are living on those things…”

Julie – AZ Rockhound Expeditions

Rocks can, and do, harbor various pathogens and microorganisms that can inadvertently be ingested, even if you’re not licking rocks.

  • Bacteria: such as Salmonella or E. coli
  • Viruses
  • Fungi

These organisms can cause horrible infections or gastrointestinal diseases, which could be serious depending on the person’s immune system.

While the chemical composition of minerals like arsenic in Realgar and mercury in cinnabar can be a clear source of danger, there’s a less obvious, yet equally important, risk lurking on the surface of some of our stones: the presence of pathogens and microorganisms.

Rock and mineral surfaces can act as hosts to a variety of these tiny, invisible threats, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This, as you can imagine, is much more of a threat when licking rocks out in the field before they’ve been cleaned.

Bacteria

Rocks could be unknowingly harboring bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli. Think about it. A lot of the places we go rockhounding are also where other animals and livestock roam.

These bacteria can survive on the surfaces of rocks and minerals, especially those that have been in contact with soil or water sources contaminated with these pathogens.

Handling these specimens and then inadvertently touching your mouth or food can lead to ingestion of the bacteria, which can lead to infections or gastrointestinal diseases.

This is a very real thing, and as I mentioned earlier, has landed someone many of us know in the hospital not too long ago. Needless to say, it was quite a scary experience for those of us in the rockhounding community.

So, what happened?

Brian, the co-creator of the YouTube rockhounding channel AZ Rockhound Expeditions does NOT lick rocks. He’s very much aware of the potential dangers that dirty rocks can pose. He takes precautions. But with precautions in place, Brian still got very, very sick.

It’s something that could happen to anyone, including myself. We’re all glad that Brian is ok, and use his experience as a reminder of the potential dangers.

I highly recommend everyone taking a moment to listen to their story and how they believe the bacteria infection occurred:

Viruses and Fungi

Not talked about nearly as much in rockhounding circles, viruses and fungi can also find a home on your specimens.

What makes these particularly nasty is that they can be quite resilient, surviving in a dormant state until they find an opportune moment to become active again.

While the risk of transmission is generally lower compared to bacteria, the possibility of infection, especially in individuals with compromised immune systems, can’t be ignored.

Basic Safety Precautions When Washing Rocks

So what can you do to stay safe?

  • First, don’t lick rocks that aren’t clean. I’ve spent a lot of time hiking and tromping around in the middle of nowhere, and there’s a lot of nasty stuff out there. Just assume that the rocks that live out there have seen and experienced the same thing!
  • Second, take a few basic precautions when washing your rocks. Even just a single drop of contaminated water can make you sick. Consider using:
    • Face shield
    • Gloves
    • Bleach in Water
    • Wash Your Hands

My Own Final Thoughts About This Topic

The presence of microorganisms on unwashed rocks and minerals is real. I don’t think anyone would argue that fact.

The whole point of this article is to simply spread awareness and act as a reminder that some minerals do in fact require proper handling. And that good hygiene practices, especially around rocks that have not been cleaned is very important.

Washing hands thoroughly after handling specimens, avoiding eating or touching your face during and immediately after handling, and cleaning specimens according to safe practices can significantly reduce the risk of transmission.

Just keep in mind, this hobby is meant to bring joy and knowledge, not health concerns and trips to the hospital. By taking even the most basic of precautions, we can all stay safe.

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