antimony [Lat. antimoneum], semimetallic chemical element; symbol Sb [Lat. stibium,=a mark]; at. no. 51; at. wt. 121.75; m.p. 630.74°C;; b.p. 1,750°C;; sp. gr. (metallic form) 6.69 at 20°C;; valence 0, +3, -3, or +5. Antimony exists in two allotropic forms (see allotropy); the more common is silvery blue-white and has a rhombohedral crystalline structure. It is a poor conductor of heat and electricity and is brittle and easily powdered. It is primarily used in alloys and chemical compounds. It is a member of Group 15 of the periodic table. Antimony rarely occurs free in nature, but its ores are widely distributed. The principal ore is stibnite, a sulfur compound known since early times; there are extensive deposits in China. Antimony is often found in other ores as well, e.g., silver, copper, and lead. The pure element antimony is produced from the ore by roasting it to form the oxide, then reducing the oxide with carbon or iron; often a flux of sodium sulfate or sodium carbonate is used to prevent loss of molten antimony by evaporation. Antimony does not react with air or water at room temperature; it does react with fluorine, chlorine, or bromine and is soluble in hot nitric or sulfuric acid; at higher temperatures, antimony will ignite and burn in air. It unites with hydrogen to form stibine, a poisonous gas. In combination with metals antimony forms alloys that are hard and brittle and have low melting points. The alloys of antimony include britannia metal, type metal, Babbitt metal, and sometimes pewter; these alloys expand on cooling, thereby retaining fine details of a mold. Alloys and compounds of antimony are used in bearings, storage batteries, safety matches, and as a red pigment in paint. Although antimony and many of its compounds are toxic, tartar emetic (potassium antimonyl tartrate) is used as a medicine. Small concentrations of antimony can be detected by a method similar to the Marsh test for arsenic. Antimony is mixed with soot and other substances to make kohl, used for centuries by women in some countries as an eye cosmetic. A method for the extraction of antimony from stibnite was first described c.1600 by Basilius Valentinus. Although known to the ancients, the element was first adequately described by Nicolas Lémery in 1707.
Antimony (IPA [æˈntɪməˌniː] (Received Pronunciation), /ˈæntɪmoʊni/ (US)) is a chemical element with the symbol Sb (stibium, meaning "mark") and atomic number 51. A metalloid, antimony has four allotropic forms. The stable form of antimony is a blue-white metalloid. Yellow and black antimony are unstable non-metals. Antimony is used in flame-proofing, paints, ceramics, enamels, a wide variety of alloys, electronics, and rubber.


Antimony in its elemental form is a silvery white, brittle, fusible, crystalline solid that exhibits poor electrical and heat conductivity properties and vaporizes at low temperatures. A metalloid, antimony resembles a metal in its appearance and in many of its physical properties, but does not chemically react as a metal. It is also attacked by oxidizing acids and halogens. Antimony and some of its alloys are unusual in that they expand on cooling. Antimony is geochemically categorized as a chalcophile, occurring with sulfur and the heavy metals lead, copper, and silver.

Estimates of the abundance of antimony in the Earth's crust range from 0.2 to 0.5 ppm.


Antimony is increasingly being used in the semiconductor industry in the production of diodes, infrared detectors, and Hall-effect devices. As an alloy, this metalloid greatly increases lead's hardness and mechanical strength. The most important use of antimony is as a hardener in lead for storage batteries. Uses include:

Antimony compounds in the form of oxides, sulfides, sodium antimonate, and antimony trichloride are used in the making of flame-proofing compounds, ceramic enamels, glass, paints, and pottery. Antimony trioxide is the most important of the antimony compounds and is primarily used in flame-retardant formulations. These flame-retardant applications include such markets as children's clothing, toys, aircraft and automobile seat covers. It is also used in the fiberglass composites industry as an additive to polyester resins for such items as light aircraft engine covers. The resin will burn while a flame is held to it but will extinguish itself as soon as the flame is removed. Antimony sulfide is also one of the ingredients of safety matches.

In the 1950s, tiny beads of a lead-antimony alloy were used for the emitters and collectors of NPN alloy junction transistors.

The natural sulfide of antimony, stibnite, was known and used in Biblical times, as medicine and in Islamic/Pre-Islamic times as a cosmetic. The Sunan Abi Dawood reports, “Muhammad said: 'Among the best types of collyrium you use is antimony (ithmid) for it clears the vision and makes the hair sprout.'”

Stibnite is still used in some developing countries as medicine. Antimony has been used for the treatment of schistosomiasis. Antimony attaches itself to sulfur atoms in certain enzymes which are used by both the parasite and human host. Small doses can kill the parasite without causing damage to the patient. Antimony and its compounds are used in several veterinary preparations like Anthiomaline or Lithium antimony thiomalate, which is used as a skin conditioner in ruminants. Antimony has a nourishing or conditioning effect on keratinized tissues, at least in animals. Tartar emetic is another antimony preparation which is used as an anti-schistosomal drug. Treatments chiefly involving antimony have been called antimonials.

Antimony-based drugs such as Allopurinol, and Meglumine, are also considered the drugs of choice for the treatment of Leishmaniasis in domestic animals. Unfortunately, as well as having low therapeutic indices, the drugs are poor at penetrating the bone marrow, where some of the Leishmania amastigotes reside, and so cure of the disease - especially the visceral form - is very difficult.

A coin made of antimony was issued in the Keichow Province of China in 1931. The coins were not popular, being too soft and they wore quickly when in circulation. After the first issue no others were produced.


The ancient words for antimony mostly have, as their chief meaning, kohl, the sulfide of antimony. Pliny the Elder, however, distinguishes between male and female forms of antimony; his male form is probably the sulfide, the female form, which is superior, heavier, and less friable, is probably native metallic antimony.

The Egyptians called antimony mśdmt; in hieroglyphics, the vowels are uncertain, but there is an Arabic tradition that the word is mesdemet. The Greek word, stimmi, is probably a loan word from Arabic or Egyptian, and is used by the Attic tragic poets of the 5th century BC; later Greeks also used stibi, as did Celsus and Pliny, writing in Latin, in the first century AD. Pliny also gives the names stimi [sic], larbaris, alabaster, and the "very common" platyophthalmos, "wide-eye" (from the effect of the cosmetic). Later Latin authors adapted the word to Latin as stibium. The Arabic word for the substance, as opposed to the cosmetic, can appear as ithmid, athmoud, othmod, or uthmod. Littré suggests the first form, which is the earliest, derives from stimmida, (one) accusative for stimmi.

The use of Sb as the standard chemical symbol for antimony is due to the 18th century chemical pioneer, Jöns Jakob Berzelius, who used this abbreviation of the name stibium.

The medieval Latin form, from which the modern languages, and late Byzantine Greek, take their names, is antimonium. The origin of this is uncertain; all suggestions have some difficulty either of form or interpretation. The popular etymology, from anti-monachos or French antimoine, still has adherents; this would mean "monk-killer", and is explained by many early alchemists being monks, and antimony being poisonous. So does the hypothetical Greek word antimonos, "against one", explained as "not found as metal", or "not found unalloyed". Lippmann conjectured a Greek word, anthemonion, which would mean "floret", and he cites several examples of related Greek words (but not that one) which describe chemical or biological efflorescence.

The early uses of antimonium include the translations, in 1050-1100, by Constantine the African of Arabic medical treatises. Several authorities believe that antimonium is a scribal corruption of some Arabic form; Meyerhof derives it from ithmid; other possibilities include Athimar, the Arabic name of the metal, and a hypothetical *as-stimmi, derived from or parallel to, the Greek.


Antimony's sulfide compound, antimony (III) trisulfide, Sb2S3 was recognized in antiquity, at least as early as 3000 BC. Pastes of Sb2S3 powder in fat or in other materials have been used since that date as eye cosmetics in the Middle East and farther afield; in this use, Sb2S3 is called kohl. It was used to darken the brows and lashes, or to draw a line around the perimeter of the eye.

An artifact made of antimony dating to about 3000 BC was found at Tello, Chaldea (part of present-day Iraq), and a copper object plated with antimony dating between 2500 BC and 2200 BC has been found in Egypt. There is some uncertainty as to the description of the artifact from Tello. Although it is sometimes reported to be a vase, a recent detailed discussion of it reports it to be rather a fragment of indeterminate purpose.

Antimony was first isolated by Geber (721-815), a Persian(or Arab) alchemist. The first European description of a procedure for isolating antimony is in the book De la pirotechnia of 1540 by Vannoccio Biringuccio, written in Italian. This book precedes the more famous 1556 book in Latin by Agricola, De re metallica, even though Agricola has been often incorrectly credited with the discovery of metallic antimony.

According to the traditional history of western alchemy, metallic antimony was described (previous to Biringuccio) by the putative Prior Basilius Valentinus in a Latin manuscript, Currus Triumphalis Antimonii, supposedly circa 1450. This manuscript was published in 1604 in English translation as The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony, by Johann Thölde (1565–1614). The marvelous discovery of a complete set of Valentinus' manuscripts, including the alchemical tales, is fully described by Jean-Jacques Manget in his Bibliotheca chemica curiosa (1702): the manuscripts had been enclosed for more than a century in a pillar of St. Peter's Abbey, at Erfurt, until the pillar was shattered by a thunderbolt. Many scholars have considered Basilius Valentinus a mythological personage. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) declared, after careful enquiry, that no Prior Valentinus ever existed in the Abbey of Erfurt, rather that the name was only a pseudonym – probably of Thölde himself – used to merge poorly translated materials of various origins.

According to the traditional history of Middle Eastern alchemy, pure antimony was well known to Geber, sometimes called "the Father of Chemistry", in the 8th century. Here there is still an open controversy: Marcellin Berthelot, who translated a number of Geber's books, stated that antimony is never mentioned in them, but other authors claim that Berthelot translated only some of the less important books, while the more interesting ones (some of which might describe antimony) are not yet translated, and their content is completely unknown.

The first natural occurence of pure antimony ('native antimony') in the Earth's crust was described by the Swedish scientist and local mine district engineer Anton von Swab in 1783. The type-sample was collected from the Sala Silver Mine in the Bergslagen mining district of south central Sweden.


Even though this element is not abundant, it is found in over 100 mineral species. Antimony is sometimes found native, but more frequently it is found in the sulfide stibnite (Sb2S3) which is the predominant ore mineral. Commercial forms of antimony are generally ingots, broken pieces, granules, and cast cake. Other forms are powder, shot, and single crystals.

In 2005, China was the top producer of antimony with about 84% world share followed at a distance by South Africa, Bolivia and Tajikistan, reports the British Geological Survey.

Country Tonnes % of total
People's Republic of China 126,000 84.0
South Africa 6,000 4.0
Bolivia 5,225 3.5
Tajikistan 4,073 2.7
Russia 3,000 2.0
Top 5 144,298 96.2
Total world 150,000 100.0
Chiffres de 2003, métal contenue dans les minerais et concentrés, source: L'état du monde 2005

The largest mine in China is Xikuangshan mine in Hunan Province.

See also Antimonide minerals, Antimonate minerals.


Antimony and many of its compounds are toxic. Clinically, antimony poisoning is very similar to arsenic poisoning. In small doses, antimony causes headache, dizziness, and depression. Larger doses cause violent and frequent vomiting, and will lead to death in a few days.

See also arsenic poisoning.

A study found that antimony may be leaching from PET bottled water, but at levels below drinking water guidelines. The guidelines are:

  • WHO, 20 µg l–1
  • Japan, 15 µg l–1
  • US EPA, Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Environment, 6 µg l–1
  • German Federal Ministry of Environment, 5 µg l–1

The acidic nature of the drink is sufficient to dissolve small amounts of antimony trioxide contained in the packaging of the drink; modern manufacturing methods prevent this occurrence. However, researchers are concerned that antimony levels correspond to duration the bottle is left to stand - the longer the beverage has been bottled, the higher the antimony leached.


See also Antimony compounds.

Important compounds of antimony include:

See also



  • W. F. Albright "Notes on Egypto-Semitic Etymology. II", The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 34, No. 4. (Jul., 1918), pp. 215-255. JSTOR link esp p.230
  • Endlich, F.M. "On Some Interesting Derivations of Mineral Names", The American Naturalist, Vol. 22, No. 253. (Jan., 1888), pp. 21-32. JSTOR link p.28
  • Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, 5th ed. 2004. Entry for antimony.
  • Lippmann, E O von [Edmund Oscar]. 1919. Entstehung und Ausbreitung der Alchemie, teil 1. Berlin: Julius Springer. In German.
  • Moorey, PRS. 1994. Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries: the Archaeological Evidence. New York: Clarendon Press.
  • Priesner, Claus and Figala, Karin, eds. 1998. Alchemie. Lexikon einer hermetischen Wissenschaft. München: C.H. Beck. 412 p. In German.
  • Sarton, George. 1935. Review of Al-morchid fi'l-kohhl, ou Le guide d'oculistique, translated by Max Meyerhof. Isis (Feb. 1935), 22(2):539-542 (The journal Isis is in the JSTOR archive.) In French.
  • Shotyk, William; Krachler, Michael; Chen, Bin. Contamination of Canadian and European bottled waters with antimony from PET containers J. Environ. Monit 2006, 8:288-292 DOI: 10.1039/b517844b
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory – Antimony
  • Public Health Statement for Antimony
  • Wakayama, Hiroshi, "Revision of Drinking Water Standards in Japan", Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (Japan), 2003

External links

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