Kaolin is one of Georgia’s most valuable - yet least well-known - natural resources. Approximately eight million metric tons of kaolin are mined in Georgia annually, adding more than one billion dollars to the state’s economy through the mining itself, the industry of processing the kaolin, and the sale of kaolin products.
Just what is kaolin? It is a fine, soft white mineral, resulting from decomposition of clays and other rocks. It can be used as a filler in paper and textiles, in the making of porcelain and china products, and in medicines and medicinal supplements. It was first discovered in China - so it is often referred to as “China clay.” But the largest deposits of kaolin in the United States are right here in Georgia, concentrated around the Fall Line. These kaolin deposits were formed after the erosion of decomposed rocks and clays in the Piedmont section of Georgia - which were carried by rivers and deposited along the Fall Line many millions of years ago, when the Atlantic Ocean covered Georgia’s Coastal Plain.
Kaolin’s is used most heavily in the paper coating industry; it is what gives the paper its white color. It is also used as a filler in the production of plastic and rubber products, and as a pigment in paints and ceramics. Around eighty percent of the kaolin mined in Georgia is used for coating of paper or as a filler. Finally, kaolin can be used in the medical and pharmaceutical industry. It is a major ingredient in medicines to alleviate upset stomachs, is used as a coating on sores caused by radiation treatments, and as a drying agent on skin.
Although kaolin may not be a household name, it can be found in products in virtually every American household - and the vast majority of that kaolin comes from Georgia. The mining of kaolin, it’s processing, and its sale are all vital aspects of Georgia’s economy.