Pickeringite: A deleterious salt on buildings

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Andreas Küng; Konrad Zehnder;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 62, Number 5, p.304-308 (2017)


Pickeringite, MgAl2(SO4)4·22H2O, was observed as efflorescence at the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Largario (Switzerland). The spongy salt crusts formed directly on rusty, deeply weathered gneiss rich in mica. The building stones originate from rocks in the vicinity of the village. On outcrops, similar occurrences were discovered. Ferrous and pyritic gneiss exhibited efflorescences of gypsum, epsomite, potassium alum, and pickeringite in sheltered places. Based on these observations and the known conditions of formation, we conclude that pickeringite resulted as a secondary mineral from weathering of pyritic gneiss. Most likely, weathering happened in an environment where, among other ions, aluminium and magnesium were present, but calcium and carbonate were absent. Such conditions rarely occur. If our hypothesis was confirmed, the fact that an extremely acid, calcium- and carbonate-free weathering system evolves next to lime mortars and plasters would be very surprising. It would imply that restricted zones devoid of a buffering effect develop on a microscopic scale.