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Published on Jan 4, 2017
Antimony is a silvery-white metal that is found in the earth's crust. Antimony ores are mined and then mixed with other metals to form antimony alloys or combined with oxygen to form antimony oxide.
The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) reports that little antimony is currently mined in the United States, but it is brought into the country from other places for processing. There are also companies that produce antimony as a by-product of smelting lead and other metals.
Antimony mixed into alloys is used in such products as lead storage batteries, solder, sheet and pipe metal, bearings, castings and pewter. Antimony oxide is added to textiles and plastics to prevent them from catching fire, and it is also used in paints, ceramics and fireworks, and as enamels for plastics, metal and glass.
The ATSDR states that antimony enters the environment during the mining and processing of its ores and in the production of antimony metal, alloys, antimony oxide, and combinations of antimony with other substances. Small amounts of antimony are also released into the environment by incinerators and coal-burning power plants.
Antimony can enter the human body when people drink water or eat food, soil or other substances that contain it. Antimony can also enter the body if people breathe contaminated air or dusts. Workers in industries that utilize antimony are at potential risk of exposure to elevated levels. There is an existing occupational airborne exposure limit from OSHA meant to protect workers.
The ATSDR reports that exposure to antimony at high levels can result in a variety of adverse health effects. Breathing high levels for a long time can irritate the eyes and lungs and can cause heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach ulcers. Ingesting large doses can cause vomiting. Long-term animal studies have reported liver damage and blood changes when ingested. Antimony can also irritate the skin if it is left on it.
These are just a few things to know about potential occupational and environmental exposures to antimony. To learn more about this or other environmental, indoor air quality, health, safety or occupational issues, please visit the websites shown below.