Antimony is a naturally-occurring metal usually found in ore deposits. Although it is a rare element, it’s extensively used in the manufacturing industry and is present in many household items. Its appearance is described as “a silvery, luscious gray metal” but consumers often don’t see it in its natural state.
Typically, antimony is used in the manufacture of flame-retardant products, toys, car seat covers, clothing (even for children), semi-conductors and infrared detectors. It is also a key component as an alloy with lead in the manufacture of tracer bullets and batteries, and it’s even used in therapies to treat schistosomiasis (a flatworm parasite) and leichmaniasis (a parasite from sandflies).
Although antimony is considered a rare metal, it’s widely available and is present in many of the items we use every day. The incongruity I see here is that antimony is an extremely toxic substance and can be lethal if inhaled or ingested in sufficient quantities.
In fact, antimony has been described as “the perfect poison” since it has many advantageous attributes. It’s odorless, colorless and nearly tasteless when dissolved. Because it is virtually undetectable, accidental exposure to lethal doses is a real threat.
Factory workers have the greatest potential for antimony exposure as an occupational hazard. The symptoms for inhaled exposure include dizziness, headaches, pneumonia-like symptoms and “antimony spots” appearing on the skin. Ingested exposure might exhibit as depression, nausea and vomiting, kidney damage, and may even cause certain types of cancer.
Therapeutic exposure while treating schistosomiasis and leichmaniasis might exhibit as an inflamed pancreas and heart ailments.
Although the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and that of the European Union (EU) maintain standards for reduced exposure to antimony, those of the EU may fall short for fruit juice concentrate products. Both agencies monitor bottled drinking water levels and maintain standards for such products since antimony can leak from the plastic in bottles into the water.
So, antimony actually does make “a perfect poison”—not only because of its odorless, colorless, tasteless qualities—but because of its ready availability in so many manufacturing processes.
As a writer of murder mysteries, I did find an interesting downside to deliberate antimony poisoning. This substance acts as a natural preservative. Therefore, the bodies of antimony-poisoned victims tend to be well-preserved, even appearing “fresh” after several years of burial.
Therefore, if you intend to use antimony as the lethal weapon in your next mystery, be sure to not only get rid of the evidence but also get rid of the body!
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!