Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Antimony toxicity?

Chiron - 10-3-2018 at 00:39

A friend of mine recently got her hair tested for heavy metal poisoning at a reputable lab. The test came back with very high levels of antimony. Her hair is dyed in certain places but said she took hair samples from areas where there was no dye. Still, I think hair dye could be a confounding factor here.

Is antimony found in cosmetics or hair dye?

We are trying to find out where her poisoning could've come from OR if the test was botched.

She has worked as a dental assistant for decades now, but she is not aware of antimony being used in her dental office. The test show elevated mercury but that makes sense given she has handled mercury amalgams in her profession and had them in her mouth before they were removed. The antimony makes less sense.

She doesn't smoke either. I know cigarettes are another possible source.

Assuming it's not the hair dye, how could this have happened?

[Edited on 10-3-2018 by Chiron]

aga - 10-3-2018 at 01:46

The best place for your friend to ask any medical-type question is a Doctor, not a chemistry forum.


Wiki has some information:

[Edited on 10-3-2018 by aga]

Sulaiman - 10-3-2018 at 03:47

Antimony sulphide is commonly used in the middle east as a cosmetic - maskara.

Chiron - 10-3-2018 at 10:23

Quote: Originally posted by aga  
The best place for your friend to ask any medical-type question is a Doctor, not a chemistry forum.


Wiki has some information:

[Edited on 10-3-2018 by aga]

Chemists know more about antimony than doctors. The medical community does not seem able to answer this question.

I'm not asking about her health but where in the environment (or products) there could be antimony?

Thanks for the Wiki link but as I said, we DID use Google and Wiki is the first link we looked at.

[Edited on 10-3-2018 by Chiron]

CobaltChloride - 10-3-2018 at 11:18

The antimony could come from using pewter plates, forks, knives, spoons etc. as pewter contains a bit of antimony, although I don't think it could be easily absorbed from there. Also, some emetics, antiprotozoan drugs, ruminant skin conditioners drugs contain antimony. As of what I know, some matches contain a bit of antimony sulfide (I even extracted Sb2S3 from matches, and the yield wasn't terribly low). You could also have high antimony levels in your drinking water. All other common sources of antimony I know are also sources of lead, so I don't think they are the cause here because she should also have high levels of lead.

aga - 10-3-2018 at 11:28

Health Section
Quote: Originally posted by Chiron  
... Chemists know more about antimony than doctors.

That may be true when the Sb is a lump, or an isolated pile of little crystals.

However, when it comes to the vastly complex set of billions of OC reactions that happen every second in the human body, a Doctor is a far better place to ask about the effects of Sb and why it might be in someone's hair.

Simple Detective Section

If this is just detective-work (rather than Health) then another very relevant place to ask would be your Friend.

Where has she been, what has she done that was out of the ordinary, or that she even felt was strange.

What Sb concentration was found in the hair ?

Was it elemental Sb, a specific compound of Sb or a random mix of compounds ?

These would be important clues.

Boffis - 10-3-2018 at 12:11

Why would anyone just randomly go and have a test for heavy metal poisoning. There is clearly more to this than the OP is telling us.

Furthermore what country are we talking about and what culture? This greatly affects the materials available to hand. Are we looking at suspect deliberate poisoning?

Chiron - 10-3-2018 at 16:44

I don't understand why some are responding with such suspicion.

She didn't "randomly" have it done... she had it done by a health practitioner, a practitioner who doesn't know how she would've been poisoned by antimony. So I am helping her investigate. I already had an account here so I thought why not.

This is in Canada. She has not traveled outside the country recently. She does work in dentistry though and has been present when amalgams are removed from people's mouths without proper breathing equipment. We think it may have something to do with that. Antimony is still used in amalgams in foreign countries and she has treated a lot of foreigners. It was also used in amalgams as recent as the 1980's in North America.

That's our best guess. Otherwise we're not sure.

Eddygp - 10-3-2018 at 18:09

Naples yellow contains antimony and has been used as a pigment but mostly in pre-20th century applications (colour ranges from brown to yellow).
Flame retardants (including in paints, paper, textiles, carpets!) tend to be a rather well-known application for antimony oxides. Are there any other clues as to what activities could have involved an exposure to paints/materials of some kind?
I personally doubt dentistry is the root of the appearance but have no arguments for this claim. It just seems unlikely -
antimony tends not to be used too much and even mercury amalgams for some reason tend to cause fewer problems than other sources of mercury. This is why I think a more clear source of antimony must have existed in something else - be it paints, ceramics, flame retardants of some kind...

I am sorry if this comment is not useful. I am just trying to come up with ideas.

All the best with this.

Chiron - 10-3-2018 at 23:50

What about cigarette smoke?

Her parents smoked extensively when she was a child. She breathed in a lot of second hand smoke and had chronic bronchitis as a result.

My research shows that hair antimony only shows exposure from the past year though, so I've got nothing.

clearly_not_atara - 11-3-2018 at 00:59

Cigarettes contain rather trivial amounts of antimony. The risk therefrom happens because it builds up at crucial junctions in the bronchi and damages the lungs, not any form of systemic poisoning. But the scary-sounding parts of cigarettes (antimony, polonium, cyanide) take a backseat to good old PAH, CO and PM2.5 in terms of practical risks.

Antimony is often used in pewter. Does she own any pewter tableware that might have been used to hold hot or otherwise corrosive (acid, base, salt etc) liquids? Eg a teapot.

aga - 11-3-2018 at 01:11

Quote: Originally posted by Chiron  
she had it done by a health practitioner, a practitioner who doesn't know how she would've been poisoned by antimony.

So it is about health then.

OK. Show us the analysis report.

Chances are that other readings in conjunction with the specific Sb concentration will provide clues.


Is this her own hair or a wig ?

[Edited on 11-3-2018 by aga]

unionised - 11-3-2018 at 01:33

Antimony was also used as a fire retardant in some foam plastic products - including pillows.

clearly_not_atara - 11-3-2018 at 02:03

aga: it's certainly about health but speculating about routes of exposure is not advice insofar as it does not portend any plan of action so I think it's fair game. Doctors are great at dealing with the effects of poisoning but are usually only taught the most common routes of exposure as that isn't really medicine, rather forensics or somesuch.

You could contact a poison control center if you want to get really professional about it, in America they're municipal IIRC.

Boffis: some hippies like to get toxicology done even when it isn't necessary. But in this case it may turn out to have been a good idea.

aga - 11-3-2018 at 02:24

Fair enough.

We could speculate better if there was any data to go on.

Currently we're stabbing around in the range of 1 atom of Sb to a helmet made of the stuff.

Chiron - 11-3-2018 at 11:38

I can't post the hair test results out of respect for her confidentiality, but I can tell you that normal range for antimony is <0.050ug/g and hers is 0.22ug/g. She also has a lot of the signs of heavy metal poisoning... like skin, GI, respiratory and neurological. Her GP thought she was developing MS but turns out it's prob a heavy metal thing.

Contacting a poison control center sounds like a good idea... they may have more info. I also consulted the MSDS for antimony but it wasn't very helpful.

I have been looking at the mattress angle and it seems that most modern mattresses in the U.S. and Canada are coated with flame retardant that can (legally) contain antimony.

Chiron - 11-3-2018 at 11:55

I spoke to a dentist online just now. Turns out antimony is used in white composite resin fillings (the white ones that they use now instead of mercury). It depends on which brand is used. The cheaper companies use antimony. My friend had all her mercury fillings replace with composite last year. Bingo.

Other secondary sources: new mattress, cosmetics.

In Canada, the federal government forbids cosmetics from having antimony, but there may still be traces. Makeup that's been imported is another story.

Thanks everyone for trying to help. I think we've figured it out now. I hope this post can help others in the future.

Rhodanide - 12-3-2018 at 05:22

Quote: Originally posted by clearly_not_atara  

You could contact a poison control center if you want to get really professional about it, in America they're municipal IIRC.

Yes, that's correct.