What is Antimony?
Antimony is a semi-metal element with the symbol Sb, which can exist in two forms: In its metallic form it is silvery, hard and brittle and the non-metallic form is grey powder.
Antimony is a member of group 15 of the periodic table, one of the elements called pnictogens, it is stable in air at room temperature but reacts with oxygen if heated to produce antimony trioxide, Sb2O3.
Antimony is a poor conductor of heat and electricity, it is stable in dry air and is not attacked by dilute acids or alkalis.
It is found in nature mainly as the sulfide mineral stibnite (Sb2S3), this compound was recognized in predynastic Egypt as an eye cosmetic (kohl) as early as about 3100 BC when the cosmetic palette was invented.
For some time, China has been the largest producer of antimony and its compounds, with most production coming from the Xikuangshan Mine in Hunan.
The industrial methods for refining antimony are roasting and reduction with carbon or direct reduction of stibnite with iron.
What is antimony used for?
Antimony is a chemical with several uses in the industry, like very pure antimony, which is used to make certain types of semiconductor devices, such as diodes and infrared detectors.
Antimony alloys are used in batteries, low friction metals, type metal, and cable sheathing, alloys of lead and tin with antimony have improved properties for solders, bullets, and plain bearings.
Antimony compounds are prominent additives for chlorine and bromine-containing fire retardants found in many commercial and domestic products that’s why they are used to make flame-proofing materials, paints, ceramic enamel, glass, and pottery.
The flame retarding effect of antimony trioxide is produced by the formation of halogenated antimony compounds, which react with hydrogen atoms, and probably also with oxygen atoms and OH radicals, thus inhibiting fire.
Markets for these flame-retardants include children’s clothing, toys, aircraft, and automobile seat covers.
They are also added to polyester resins in fiberglass composites for such items as light aircraft engine covers.
The resin will burn in the presence of an externally generated flame but will extinguish when the external flame is removed.
Biology and medicine have few uses for antimony.
Some of the treatments containing antimony, known as antimonials, are used as emetics.
Antimony compounds are used as anti protozoan drugs.
Potassium antimonyl tartrate, or tartar emetic, was once used as an anti-schistosomal drug from 1919 on. It was subsequently replaced by praziquantel.
Antimony and its compounds are used in several veterinary preparations, such as anthiomaline and lithium antimony thiomalate, as a skin conditioner in ruminants.
Antimony has a nourishing or conditioning effect on keratinized tissues in animals.
Why is antimony named antimony?
Antimony was named after the Greek words anti and monos to mean “a metal not found alone.” The chemical symbol, Sb, comes from the element’s historical name, stibium.
Is antimony toxic to the body?
Antimony is mainly excreted from the human body via urine and its compounds do not cause acute human health effects, except for antimony potassium tartrate (“tartar emetic”), a prodrug that is intentionally used to treat leishmaniasis patients.
The human exposure to antimony can take place by breathing air, drinking water and eating foods that contain it, but also by skin contact with soil, water, and other substances that contain it.
Breathing in antimony that is bound to hydrogen in the gaseous phase, is what mainly causes the health effects.
Exposure to relatively high concentrations of antimony for a long period can irritate the eyes, skin, and lungs.
As the exposure continues more serious health effects may occur, such as lung diseases, heart problems, diarrhea, severe vomiting, and stomach ulcers.
The effects of antimony and its compounds on human and environmental health differ widely:
- Elemental antimony metal does not affect human and environmental health.
- Inhalation of antimony trioxide dust is considered harmful and suspected of causing cancer. (This information was only tested on rats, the is no results that can prove that in humans)
- Antimony chlorides are corrosive to skin.
How do you make Antimony ?
Antimony has been known since ancient times in Egypt when it was used as an eyeliner, It is sometimes found free, but is usually obtained from the ores stibnite (Sb2S3) and valentinite (Sb2O3).
Nicolas Lémery, a French chemist, was the first person to scientifically study antimony and its compounds.