Antimony is a naturally occurring metal that has been shown in animal studies to cause organ damage and shorten lifespans.
Here, we’ve shared everything you need to know about antimony in drinking water, including how it gets there, its potential health effects, how to test for it, and more.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Antimony is a semimetal that occurs naturally in rocks and soils in the environment.
- Mining, farming activities, leaching from metal pipes, and pollution from incineration and burning fossil fuels, may cause antimony to enter a water supply.
- Exposure to antimony may lead to vomiting, diarrhea, liver and kidney damage, and reproductive problems.
Table of Contents
- ❔ What Is Antimony In Water?
- 🚰 How Does Antimony Get Into Water?
- 🤔 How Much Antimony Does Water Contain?
- 🔎 How To Know If Your Water Contains Antimony
- 🚱 Is Antimony In Drinking Water Dangerous?
- 📉 Is Antimony In Tap Water Regulated?
- 🧪 How To Test For Antimony In Tap Water
- 👩🏽⚕️ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Antimony In Your Water
- ⚠️ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Antimony
- 📑 Final Word: Removing Antimony From Water
❔ What Is Antimony In Water?
Antimony is a semimetal that can be found naturally as valentinite (antimony oxide) or stibnite (antimony sulfide). In its metallic form, antimony is a hard, brittle, silvery-white material.
There are a few different uses of antimony in manufacturing. It’s used to make pipe, solder, sheet metal, ammunition, fertilizers, batteries, plastics, textiles, rubber, and more.
Antimony isn’t an essential trace mineral and has several potential health effects, so it’s considered a nuisance contaminant in water.
Different forms of antimony have different levels of toxicity.
🚰 How Does Antimony Get Into Water?
Antimony gets into water in several different ways, including:
- In runoff from ore processing, mining facilities, or farming activities using antimony-based fertilizers
- Pollution from burning fossil fuels and incineration
- As a byproduct of coal waste (such as fly ash) and mining
Once in your water supply, antimony will remain until it is reduced or removed. Most water treatment plants should have processes in place to reduce this metal to safe levels, but this depends on the concentration of antimony in the source water, and the effectiveness of the treatment methods used.
Antimony may also enter a drinking water supply due to dissolution from metal pipes and plumbing.
If your local authority has replaced its lead water pipes with pipes made from antimony, it’s highly likely that your water will contain antimony.
Antimony that leaches from metal pipes is in the less toxic form of the antimony(V) oxo-anion, but you probably still don’t want to drink elevated levels of this metal in your water.
🤔 How Much Antimony Does Water Contain?
There’s no specific concentration of antimony that a drinking water source may contain.
The antimony concentration in a municipal water supply depends on:
- The amount of antimony found naturally in the source water
- The effectiveness of the water treatment methods at the plant
- Whether or not antimony may enter the water (through leaching) as it travels through the distribution system
The average tap water supply shouldn’t contain any more than 0.006 mg/L of antimony, since this is the maximum amount of this contaminant that can legally be present.
🔎 How To Know If Your Water Contains Antimony
Antimony has no color, smell, or taste, which means you won’t know it’s in your water – even if very high concentrations are present.
There are two ways to know if your water contains antimony: by checking your Water Quality Report and by conducting a water test.
Check Your Water Quality Report
The easiest way to get an idea of your water’s antimony levels is to check your Water Quality Report, or Consumer Confidence Report.
Water Quality Reports are produced annually by all water utilities. You can find your latest Report available to download online. Check your water utility’s website for this information.
A Consumer Confidence Report lists all the contaminants that were detected in the treated water supply by the water company’s testing throughout the year. If antimony is present in your water, it should be listed in the Report.
The biggest drawback of a Consumer Confidence Report is that it doesn’t account for the antimony that may leach into your water supply as it travels through the distribution system to your home. That means your water might contain more antimony than recorded in the Report.
Conduct A Water Test
If you want to know exactly how much antimony your water contains when it comes out of your faucet, consider conducting a water test at home.
We’ve shared more on how to test your water for antimony later in this guide.
🚱 Is Antimony In Drinking Water Dangerous?
Low levels of antimony aren’t considered dangerous in drinking water, but there are a few potential health risks associated with exposure to high levels of this contaminant. These include:
- Abdominal pain
A WHO report on antimony in water shared the findings of animal studies on the effects of antimony exposure. These studies found that large doses of antimony provoked clear signs of toxicity, including damage to the liver and kidneys, decreased body weight, increased mortality, and cancer.
One study also found that antimony could have reproductive effects in humans, and could trigger spontaneous abortions and premature births.
Based on the information we know so far, antimony is considered to be more carcinogenic (cancer-causing) when inhaled, but more research is needed for us to understand the true link between antimony ingestion in water and cancer.
📉 Is Antimony In Tap Water Regulated?
Yes, antimony in tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Based on research into its health effects, the EPA has set a Maximum Contaminant Level and a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal of 0.006 mg/L for antimony.
This means the EPA believes that antimony is only dangerous in water at concentrations of 0.006 mg/L or higher.
Water utilities are legally required to reduce antimony levels in public water supplies to below this concentration. This can be done with specific water treatment processes at the plant and with anti-corrosion water treatments.
However, some organizations contest the EPA’s legal limit for antimony, saying that it should be lower. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a lower Health Guideline of 1 mg/L for antimony, which it says “protects against change to the stomach and intestines”.
🧪 How To Test For Antimony In Tap Water
Antimony can only be detected through advanced chemical testing, so you can’t use a standard DIY water test for this contaminant.
The best way to test for antimony in tap water is with a test kit from a certified water testing laboratory.
The cost of an antimony laboratory water test is $30-$75, depending on the complexity of the testing method and whether any other contaminants are detected alongside antimony.
To test your water for antimony with a lab test, follow these steps:
- Choose your test. Find a test from a trusted laboratory and order the test. Wait for it to arrive in the mail.
- Take a sample of your water. Follow the test’s instructions to take a water sample (or several samples) from your drinking faucet.
- Send the sample to the laboratory and wait for your results to be delivered.
- Analyze your results. The test data should outline the exact concentration of antimony in your water.
Once you know your water’s antimony concentration, you’ll be equipped with the information you need to decide on a suitable method of water treatment (if necessary).
👩🏽⚕️ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Antimony In Your Water
If you’re concerned about antimony in your water, there are a few things you can do:
- If an antimony test tells you that your water contains antimony within the EPA legal limit, it’s down to you if you want to remove this contaminant from your water at home.
- Or, if concentrations of antimony higher than the EPA legal limit are detected, share your test results with your local water utility and ask them what they are doing to reduce antimony levels in your water.
- Antimony is also common in well water. If you own a private well, it’s your responsibility to test for water contaminants and introduce methods of water treatment if necessary. Buy an antimony test if you have any reason to be concerned about this contaminant.
- Once you’ve installed a suitable treatment system, conduct another water test to confirm that the treatment method has worked to reduce this contaminant.
⚠️ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Antimony
Aside from drinking antimony in your tap water, there are a few other ways that you might be exposed to this semimetal:
- In food – Antimony is present in some food packaging, and has also been found in fruits, vegetables, cereals, meat, poultry, and dairy products.
- In the air – Antimony may also be present in low levels in the air, especially in areas near manufacturing facilities that release antimony into the atmosphere.
- In certain occupations – Mining, smelting, soldering, and glass working may also increase your likelihood of antimony trioxide exposure through inhalation.
Antimony is present in everyday objects in our homes, including textiles, paper, and plastics, to prevent them from catching fire. However, it’s unlikely that skin contact with materials containing antimony will increase your exposure to this contaminant.
📑 Final Word: Removing Antimony From Water
Antimony is a dangerous drinking water contaminant, so if you discover it in your water, you should consider removing it with an at-home treatment solution.
Water filters that reduce or remove antimony include:
- Reverse osmosis
- Water distillers
- Activated carbon filters
- Ultrafiltration systems
Not all water filters are up to the job of removing antimony, so make sure to read the product information carefully and check third-party test results before you spend your money.