SEATTLE -- When Mount St. Helens blew its top more than seven years ago, the volcano produced enough ash to fill the Seattle Kingdome 607 times, and artists and businesses in the Northwest still make use of the abundant supply.
From collectibles to gifts, jewelry to cleansers, and even as landfill, people have found ways to use the ash from the May 18, 1980, explosion.
Lynne Birch, owner of Cougar Ceramics in Cougar, Wash., started experimenting with ash, liquid clay and an electric beater when Mount St. Helens erupted.
Birch said she started to sell a line of pottery about nine months later, and demand for her wares is still growing.
The ash from the Cougar area, a town of 50 people about an hour's drive north of Vancouver, Wash., 'has a rosy color to it,' Birch said. 'Everybody says it looks like chocolate ice cream swirls.'
Birch said people buy the pottery 'because it is unique, pretty and has the ash it.'
Seattle artist Roger Vines makes handblown glass, using Mount St. Helen's ash as a key ingredient.
He discovered 'when you heat up the ash, it becomes glass,' so he began adding it to his glass mixtures 'right away, because it creates a flux and makes better glass.'
Like Birch, Vines said his creations, marketed worldwide, are still selling after seven years because they are pieces of art, rather than products with ash.
When his business was smaller, Vines took the time to go to eastern Washington to collect ash. Now he buys it from a Seattle supplier.
John Cooper, a Seattle pottery retail manager, gathered about 3 tons of Mount St. Helen's ash years ago in eastern Washington, which after being sifted is sold by the bagful.
'There are people that are using it,' he said. 'Business is chugging right along.' Cooper said the company sells about 50 pounds of ash every month. A 10-pound bag, he said, sells for $4.50.
Other companies profit from selling pumice, a grainy form of ash, often used in abrasive products.
But while pumice is used in dentistry for cleaning teeth, Mike Hess, part-owner of Hess Pumice Products in Milad City, Idaho, said the material used by dentists is different than the Mount St. Helens variety.
'Mount St. Helens' ash is too fine and too powdery to use in abrasive' applications, Hess said.
But the owner of a soap-making company in Bellingham, Wash., Rick Alexander, disagreed, saying 'it's a gentle cleaning powder and an excellent abrasive.'
Alexander said he has sold more than 7 million bars of the jade-green, all-natural soap since 1980.
His company, Mount St. Helen's Products, began selling small bars to hotels and motels in the Seattle area and will be mass merchandising the soap next year, Alexander said. The trademarked product already is sold in Japan.
Alexander said he thinks the more than 2.4 billion square yards of ash and pumice that fell in 1980 will keep him in business forever.
'We've got more than enough,' he said. 'It's something the whole world is made of.'
John Calanan, chamber of commerce president in Ritzville, Wash., the town that received the most ash -- about 5 inches -- said, 'We have found that mixed with water, it's a beautiful glass cleaner.'
But, he said nobody in the eastern Washington town of 1,800 has made commercial use of it.
'I would think that as well-known as we are all over the world and in the United States (for the ash), somebody would try to come in and take advantage of it,' Calanan said. 'I think there is a market for it, I really do.'
As a result of the five eruptions in 1980, tons of soot and ash settled in the Toutle and Cowlitz rivers.
On the ash dredged from the Cowlitz, a 500,000-square-foot shopping mall has been built. The Three Rivers mall opened last summer in Kelso, a town 40 miles downriver from the crater.
Stephen Barnhouse, manager of the mall, said more than 3 million cubic yards of ash, sand and dirt were dredged to fill the site.
'It became the soil for the mall property, the filler for the site,' Barnhouse said, noting the dredged material raised the ground about 20 feet.