Calcium: Not so good in high doses

Alpine cattle herder Veronica Riedmann milks a cow at her alpine dairy Alpe Albona in the Vorarlberg mountain range of western Tyrol on July 25, 2013 near Bludenz, Austria.

There are basically two ways to look at the economy – macro-economically and micro-economically. The BBC has taken that one step further – they’re looking at the economy micro-scopically, if you will.

The series is called “Elementary Business” and the element du jour is calcium. And while you’re probably familiar with why you need calcium to keep your body healthy, you might not be familiar with what a vital role it plays in building modern life.

“We use it for the most widely used man-made material on earth and in fact, this material is second only to water in terms of its use by man” says the BBC’s Justin Rowlatt. He’s talking about concrete.

Calcium is the base of cement – cement is used to hold the aggregates of sand together to make concrete.

Rowlatt finds this a bit bizarre because if you think about calcium as this “key structural material in nature, we’ve found uses for to be the key structural uses of mankind as well.”

But there’s a downside to the widespread use of concrete and therefore calcium. Calcium comes from limestone – the limestone is heated in a kilm which releases carbon dioxide into the environment. “When you learn how much cement we produce…you realize the scale of this in terms of a pollutant.”

About the author

Justin Rowlatt is the host of Business Daily from the BBC World Service

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