Antimony (Sb) is a little-known heavy metal used in a wide variety of commercial and consumer products, including batteries, bullets, children’s toys, clothing, glass, paint, and plastic bottles.
Antimony is found at very low levels in the environment; therefore, unless you live near a landfill or an industry that makes or uses antimony, exposure to antimony in its various compounds in nature should not be viewed as a concern. The increasingly widespread use of antimony in everyday items and modern manufacturing techniques, however, has created a cumulative effect which can put individuals at risk of over-exposure.
Antimony is viewed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a metal compound to be limited by federal regulation. As covered in a recent article, Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Toys, it is one of eight heavy metals limited by the CPSC in the manufacture of products for children 12 years old or younger.
In data collected by State of Washington Department of Ecology, antimony and antimony compounds were reported in 495 children’s products in various concentrations. Avon reported antimony in dolls and sleepwear. IKEA reported it in blankets, high chairs, and toys. Gap uses it in clothing of all types. Hallmark, H&M, Hasbro, J.C. Penny, LEGO, Mattel, Nike, and other companies also use antimony in plastic, metal, and textile products.
In most products, antimony is used as a flame retardant, as part of a metal alloy, in the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics, or as color pigment.
Studies on laboratory animals and human workplaces have reported the health effects of chronic high exposure to antimony as ranging from milder problems such as diarrhea, joint and/or muscle pain, skin irritations, and vomiting to more severe damage such as blood disorders, cancer, lung disease, and heart problems. However, the evidence on the absorption rate from consumer products, the amount of acceptable exposure and duration, and the long-term health effects appears to be inconclusive at this time.
To minimize exposure to antimony, it is recommended to take following precautions: avoid workplace environments where antimony is present in high concentrations, avoid children’s products reported to include antimony, don’t consume beverages and foods from PET plastics (especially when heated), and use a high-quality home water purifier if you believe your local water supply may be at risk.