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Antimony

Antimony

Our research is increasingly showing that antimony (Sb) is a global environmental contaminant whose significance has until now been underestimated. In fact, the environmental importance of Sb is on par with such elements as lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), or cadmium (Cd), but this is generally not appreciated. In contrast to these other elements, far less is known about the sources, behaviour, and ultimate fate of Sb in the environment.

Antimony is considered a "priority pollutant" by the German Science Foundation (DFG), the European Commission, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Antimony (Sb, from the Latin stibium), is commonly found in lead ores. Therefore, the mining and refining of Pb over the millenia has not only given rise to extensive Pb contamination, but Sb contamination as well. Our research suggests that the sum of all emissions of Sb to the global environment may be a factor of ten greater than those from natural sources. In other words, human activities are dominating the driving the global Sb cycle and the effects of these activities on the global cycling of Sb are comparable to the impacts we have had on the global Pb cycle.

Why is Sb relevant today? First, Sb, like As and Pb, has no physiological function and is potentially toxic. However, far less is known about Sb in the environment and in human health simply because Sb has received much less attention than either of these two elements.

Second, there are many significant anthropogenic sources of Sb to the environment today and some are actually increasing in importance. Antimony is emitted from coal combustion as well as the smelting, refining, and recycling of Pb, Cu, and Zn ores. However, Sb is of particular concern in urban areas because of the growing importance of waste incineration (Sb is used to make flame-resistant plastics, but also in electronics, pigments, enamels, alloys, and as a catalyst to manufacture diverse polymers including PET) and vehicular traffic (it is alloyed with Pb in lead acid batteries, in heat-resistant plastics for electronic components, and in the linings of brake shoes).

The mineralogical and chemical forms of Sb in soils, and the aqueous speciation of Sb in soil solutions and surface waters, are poorly understood. Antimony may be more mobile than Pb because Sb oxides are more soluble than those of Pb, and because the dominant inorganic species in soil waters is a negatively charged anion. For similar reasons, Sb may be more "accessible" to living organisms.

Current Research

My main research areas are human impacts on the geochemical cycles of potentially toxic trace elements, including archives of atmospheric change (peat bogs and polar ice cores), fate in soils and sediments, and impacts on natural freshwaters. Read more ...

SWAMP Lab

The SWAMP lab is concerned with environmental quality in its broadest sense: the quality of our soil resources, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. The research lab is a unique state-of-the-art, metal-free, clean-lab and analytical facility. Read more ...

Elmvale

I am the President of the Elmvale Foundation, a Canadian, federally registered charity for environmental science education which I created in 2007. The main public education initiative of this Foundation is the Elmvale Water Festival which uses the water emanating from artesian springs in the Elmvale area as a tool for environmental education.

Contact Me

Prof. William Shotyk
348 B South Academic Building

shotyk@ualberta.ca

Tel.: 780-492-7155
Fax: 780-492-4323


Office Hours:
By appointment

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