Antimony: A Critical Mineral




Look how careful these scientists are with that material!

And yet people in the past used it all the time:

  • Ancient Egyptians might have considered antimony strategically important, just as the US does today, but for different reasons. Instead of using it for batteries, flame retardants, synthetic materials, and military purposes, they made eyeliner with it.

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    Nefertiti. (Arkadiy Etumyan, CC BY-SA 3.0)


  • The Arab word that Europeans first translated as “kohl” is al-kuhul, derived from kahala–to stain or paint. Medieval alchemists turned this into the Latin alcoholpowdered ore of antimony! They thought it would lead them first to something called philosophical mercury and then to the Philosopher’s Stone. “Alcohol” later came to mean any powder or liquid that remained after vaporization; the word didn’t acquire its boozy connotations until the 18th century, around the time that antimony was in use as a pigment again.

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    Matthias Stom used antimony-based Naples Yellow in “The Arrest of Christ.” (Source)


It’s unclear if antimony harmed anyone back then, but it could have. While antimony’s effects on human health vary, it can cause liver, skin, respiratory, and/or cardiovascular problems.

Also, in some formulations antimony will burn (a feature that chemical experts have harnessed to provide us with green and white fireworks, as well as “glitter” effects).

Antimony is obviously a multipurpose (and sometimes sparkly) element. But why did the US government list it as a critical mineral in 2018?
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