Soapstone is a natural substance created by mineral deposits--primarily talc, chlorite, dolomite and magnesite. Because of its durability and attractive appearance, it has traditional been used for countertops, sinks, hearths and wood stoves. Soapstone has grown in popularity for cookware as well, because of its durability and natural ability to retain heat. If you use soapstone cookware, though, there are some important safety considerations to keep in mind.
Because soapstone naturally conducts heat so well, it can retain heat for hours after being removed from the stove. Just like touching any other hot cookware, touching hot soapstone cookware can cause burns. Keep an eye on children, and warn guests about the potential for the soapstone pots and pans to still be hot.
Soapstone cookware can crack if it is exposed to a dramatic temperature change. It is not good for taking food from the freezer to the oven, for example. When cooking with soapstone cookware, preheat the pan gradually and cook using low heat. Do not expose the cookware to direct flame, such as that from a gas stove, as this can cause cracking and breaking as well.
Soapstone cookware is significantly heavier than other types of cookware. Use extreme caution when carrying the pieces, as they will break easily if dropped and the pieces can cause cuts.
Some soapstone, primarily that from California, does contain Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA), which are long, thin, separable fibres that run through the stone. If NOA breaks down and the microscopic fibres become airborne, they can cause health issues. However, one would have to breathe in a significant amount of these fibres over an extended period of time to experience any adverse effects. Since much of the soapstone for cookware comes from Brazil, it is unlikely to contain any asbestos. If you are concerned about asbestos in your soapstone, find out where it was quarried, and whether the manufacturer took precautions to remove asbestos from the rock.