December 6, 2009 by  

Antimony,It’s been reported that one color of the Zhu Zhu Pets has high levels of antimony. How dangerous is this?

To be honest, the levels of antimony that are reported are, on a level of dangerousness from concerning to good grief that will kill me, somewhere around entirely safe.

The reason there’s something between very little to worry about and nothing is because of the way that safety levels are set. What’s actually been found is:

Mister Squiggles, the light-brown version of the hamsters, has unsafe levels of antimony, said Dara O’Rourke, co-founder of GoodGuide.

The chemical can cause cancer, lung and heart problems, according to GoodGuide.

“We found levels of about 93 to 106 parts per million,” O’Rourke said. “The new federal standard is about 60 parts per million.”

Now it’s true that the element (for that is what antimony is, a metal, rather than a chemical) antimony can, at certain doses, cause cancers, lung and heart problems. And those federal standards recognise this when they are set. So those limits are set well below the amounts that we know cause these problems. Typically, safe exposure limits are set at one hundreth (that is, 1%) of what we know to be the dangerous dose.

Here’s the actual data on antimony toxicity:

Exposure to antimony at high levels can result in a variety of adverse health effects.

Breathing high levels for a long time can irritate your eyes and lungs and can cause heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers.

In short-term studies, animals that breathed very high levels of antimony died. Animals that breathed high levels had lung, heart, liver, and kidney damage. In long-term studies, animals that breathed very low levels of antimony had eye irritation, hair loss, lung damage, and heart problems. Problems with fertility were also noted. In animal studies, problems with fertility have been seen when rats breathed very high levels of antimony for a few months.

Ingesting large doses of antimony can cause vomiting. We don’t know what other effects may be caused by ingesting it. Long-term animal studies have reported liver damage and blood changes when animals ingested antimony. Antimony can irritate the skin if it is left on it.

Sounds scary, right? Well, in low doses it isn’t:

Antimony can have beneficial effects when used for medical reasons. It has been used as a medicine to treat people infected with parasites.

But think back to how those federal guidelines are set. If the new federal limit is 60 ppm and the Zhou Zhou Pet is at 120 ppm (just to make the math simple) then the Zhou Zhou pet has 2% of the dangerous limit rather than just 1%. Which isn’t something we might want to worry about very much.

Worth noting that one of the major uses of antimony is as a fire retardant: we’ve not seen mass outbreaks of cancer, heart or lung disease from this, have we? Especially when the government insists that crib mattresses for babies use antimony as a fire retardant.

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