Drinking Water Contaminants- Antimony

This is a factsheet about a chemical that may be found in some public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What is Antimony and how is it used?

Antimony is a metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other elements. The most widely used antimony compound is antimony trioxide, used as a flame retardant. It is also found in batteries, pigments, and ceramics/glass.

Why is Antimony being Regulated?

In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water that do or may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals.

The MCLG for antimony has been set at 6 parts per billion (ppb) because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the potential health problems described below.

Based on this MCLG, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as possible, considering the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.

The MCL has also been set at 6 ppb because EPA believes, given present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably be required to remove this contaminant should it occur in drinking water.

These drinking water standards and the regulations for ensuring these standards are met, are called National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. All public water supplies must abide by these regulations.

What are the Health Effects?

Short-term: EPA has found antimony to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Long-term: Antimony has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: AND/OR- Antimony is a (known/potential drinking water) human carcinogen. OR- No reliable data are available concerning health effects from long-term exposure to antimony in drinking water.

How much Antimony is produced and released to the environment?

In 1984, 64.5 million lbs. antimony ore was mined and refined. Production of the most commonly used antimony compound, the trioxide, increased during the 1980s to about 31 million lbs, reported in 1985. Industrial dust, auto exhaust, and home heating oil are the main sources of urban air.

From 1987 to 1993, according to the Toxics Release Inventory antimony and antimony compound releases to land and water totaled over 12 million lbs. These releases were primarily from copper and lead smelting and refining industries. The largest releases occurred in Arizona and Montana. The greatest releases to water occurred in Washington and Louisiana.

What happens to Antimony when it is released to the environment?

Little is known about antimony’s fate once released to the soil. Some studies indicate that antimony is highly mobile in soils, while others conclude that it strongly adsorbs to the soil. In water, it usually adheres to sediments. Most antimony compounds show little or no tendency to accumulate in aquatic life.

How will Antimony be Detected in and Removed from My Drinking Water?

The regulation for antimony became effective in 1994. Between 1993 and 1995, EPA required your water supplier to collect water samples every 3 months for one year and analyze them to find out if antimony is present above 6 ppb. If it is present above this level, the system must continue to monitor this contaminant.

If contaminant levels are found to be consistently above the MCL, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of antimony so that it is consistently below that level. The following treatment methods have been approved by EPA for removing antimony: Coagulation/Filtration, Reverse Osmosis.

How will I know if Antimony is in my drinking water?

If the levels of antimony exceed the MCL, the system must notify the public via newspapers, radio, TV, and other means. Additional actions, such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to public health.

Drinking Water Standards:

  • MCLG: 6 ppb
  • MCL: 6 ppb

Antimony Releases to Water and Land, 1987 to 1993 (in pounds):

  Water Land
TOTALS 330,064 12,003,373
Top Ten States *
AZ 505 7,074,128
MT 0 2,338,697
TX 24,817 840,392
LA 55,414 344,762
WI 1,445 392,000
MO 784 188,266
WA 63,220 99,915
ID 2,600 140,250
TN 687 108,325
AL 27,536 69,503
Major Industries*
Copper smelting, refining 505 7,074,128
Other nonferrous smelt. 17,015 2,383,947
Sec. nonferrous smelt. 1,459 803,398
Misc Indust. Organics 18,424 581,465
Porcelain plumb. fixtures 1,445 392,000
Petroleum refining 111,527 202,251
Misc Inorganic chems. 4,962 140,250
Plastics, resins 20 60,372
Storage batteries 0 45,952
Synthetic fibers 26,803 12,535

* Water/Land totals only include facilities with releases greater than a certain amount - usually 1000 to 10,000 lbs.

As part of the Drinking Water and Health pages, this fact sheet is part of a larger U.S. EPA publication:
EPA National Primary Drinking Water Regulations

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