Lithium, Elemental

CAS RN: 7439-93-2

Exposure Summary

Lithium is widely distributed in nature; trace amounts are found in many minerals, in most rocks and soils, and in many natural waters. Lithium is a member of the alkali metals and does not occur as the free metal in nature. Lithium concentrations in the earth's crust are estimated to be 20 to 70 ppm by weight; it is the 27th most abundant element. Lithium is found in small amounts in nearly all igneous rocks and in the waters of many mineral springs. Lepidolite, spodumene, petalite, and amblygonite are the most important lithium containing minerals. The production and use of lithium compounds in ceramics, glass and primary aluminum production, the manufacture of lubricants and greases, primary and secondary (rechargeable) batteries, the production of synthetic rubber, the manufacture of polyester fiber, the production of antioxidants and antihistamines, as catalysts, and in the treatment of mood disorders may result in the release of lithium compounds to the environment through various waste streams. If release to air lithium compounds should exist in the particulate phase in the ambient atmosphere since the ionic nature of lithium compounds makes them essentially non-volatile. Particulate-phase lithium may be physically removed from the air by wet and dry deposition. The adsorption of lithium was measured on aquifer material; Freundlich coefficients ranged from 4.5 to 5.5. Lithium has been found to sorb slightly to humic soils with a Kp of 4.6 at pH 5. These data indicate that lithium compounds are not expected to adsorb strongly to soils and sediments. Lithium ion would not be expected to undergo oxidation-reduction reactions under environmental conditions, and would exist in its +1 oxidation state either in compounds or as dissolved ions. The ionic nature of lithium compounds makes them essentially non-volatile; lithium compounds would not volatilized from dry soil surfaces. Due to the ionic nature of lithium compounds, volatilization from moist surfaces will not occur. In water, adsorption to suspended solids and sediments is not expected to be important fate processes for lithium compounds. Lithium ions may undergo precipitation, sorption, or ligand exchange reactions in the environment. Due to the ionic nature of most lithium compounds, volatilization from water surfaces will not occur. Bioconcentration is not expected to be an important fate process due to the ionic nature of lithium compounds. Occupational exposure to lithium compounds may occur through inhalation and dermal contact at workplaces where lithium compounds are produced or used. Since lithium is found various environmental media, the general public would be exposed to small amounts of lithium via inhalation of ambient air, ingestion of food and drinking water. (SRC)
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