Diseases Caused by Antimony or Its Compounds

1. Introduction and Definitions

Antimony is a silvery-white metal used in various industrial applications, including the manufacture of flame retardants, batteries, ceramics, glass, and alloys. While antimony and its compounds have numerous uses, exposure can lead to significant health problems, primarily affecting the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, skin, and eyes. This article provides comprehensive information on diseases caused by antimony and its compounds, targeting occupational health nurses and doctors.

2. Agent Causes the Disease

Exposure to antimony typically occurs through inhalation of dust or fumes containing antimony trioxide (Sb2O3), the most common and toxic form of antimony. Other compounds, such as antimony pentachloride (SbCl5) and antimony trisulfide (Sb2S3), also pose health risks. These compounds are used in various industrial processes, contributing to occupational exposure.

3. Workers at Risk of This Disease

Several occupations and tasks put workers at higher risk of exposure to antimony and its compounds, including:

  • Manufacturing Workers: Involved in the production of flame retardants, batteries, and plastics.
  • Metal Refinery Workers: Handling antimony-containing ores and refining metals.
  • Ceramic and Glass Industry Workers: Using antimony compounds as colorants and additives.
  • Paint and Coating Workers: Using antimony-based pigments.
  • Battery Production Workers: Working with antimony compounds in the manufacture of lead-acid batteries.
  • Mining and Smelting Workers: Extracting and processing antimony-containing ores.

4. Symptoms

Symptoms of diseases caused by antimony exposure can vary depending on the level and duration of exposure:

  • Acute Exposure: Symptoms include irritation of the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Severe exposure can lead to pulmonary edema and acute respiratory distress.
  • Chronic Exposure: Long-term exposure can cause chronic bronchitis, pneumoconiosis (antimony pneumoconiosis), decreased lung function, and liver and kidney damage. Chronic skin exposure can lead to dermatitis.

5. Diagnosis

Diagnosing diseases caused by antimony involves a combination of clinical evaluation, occupational exposure assessment, and specific tests:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Detailed assessment of the patient's work history and symptoms.
  • Pulmonary Function Tests: To assess lung function and detect obstructive or restrictive patterns.
  • Chest X-rays or CT Scans: Imaging to detect lung inflammation, fibrosis, or other damage.
  • Blood and Urine Tests: Measuring antimony levels and markers of organ function (e.g., liver and kidney tests).
  • Skin Examination: For signs of irritation or chronic dermatitis.

6. Treatment

Treatment for diseases caused by antimony focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further exposure:

  • Remove from Exposure: Immediate removal from the source of antimony exposure is crucial.
  • Symptomatic Treatment: Providing medications to manage respiratory symptoms, such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids, and treatments for gastrointestinal and skin symptoms.
  • Supportive Care: Including hydration, rest, and monitoring of respiratory and organ function.
  • Long-term Monitoring: Regular follow-up to monitor lung function, skin health, and overall health status.

7. Prevention

Preventing diseases caused by antimony involves implementing strict control measures in the workplace:

  • Engineering Controls: Using local exhaust ventilation, enclosed processes, and proper maintenance of equipment to reduce airborne exposure to antimony dust and fumes.
  • Work Practices: Implementing safe work practices such as proper handling and disposal of antimony-containing materials, and avoiding eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where antimony is used.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Providing and ensuring the use of appropriate respirators, protective clothing, gloves, and eye protection.
  • Health Surveillance: Regular health screenings, including pulmonary function tests and monitoring of antimony levels in blood and urine for workers exposed to antimony.
  • Education and Training: Informing workers about the hazards of antimony and safe work practices to minimize exposure.

By recognizing the hazards of antimony exposure and applying effective preventive strategies, occupational health professionals can substantially lower the occurrence of related illnesses and improve the overall health and safety of workers.

Workplace Exposure Limits: