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Boron Compounds and Their Toxicity


COLOR="#004080">SOURCES :


-Boric acid

tetraborate, anhydrous or Anhydrous Borax (Na2B4O7), these two
materials are mainly used in the manufacture of boron


- Sodium
tetraborate, decahydrate or Borax or Decahydrate Borax



-Gerstley Borate
(North America), see our comprehensive report on this site :




COLOR="#004080">General information :


The natural forms
include boric acid and the borates.


Boric Acid,
Borates, Boron Oxide :


Since these
products have similar metabolism and toxicity, we will discuss
them together


I- Boric Acid


Boric acid
(H3BO3, CAS # 10043-35-3) has a pH of 4 in a saturated aqueous
solution. It has antibacterial and antifongic properties, hence it
is used as a colourless disinfectant for the skin and the mucous
membranes, ocular, oto-rhino-laryngologeal and vaginal.

standards have set authorized concentrations of boric acid at 0.5%
for oral hygiene products and at 5% for talcs and cosmetics.

It is used in the
nuclear industry, for its capacity to absorb neutrons, for control
and emergency regulation of reactions.




Borates, among
which sodium borate or borax, are also used in :

-the glass
industry, ceramics, enamels,

-the manufacture
of cosmetics, paints, dyes,

-the treatment of
leather and wood,




-retardings of


Oxide :


Boron oxide, B2O3
CAS# 1303-86-2, formed by the thermal fusion of boric acid, is
used in the glass industry.


COLOR="#004080">Toxicological properties :


I- Absorption


absorption :

absorption is fast and almost complete; the blood peak is located
at the second hour.


absorption :

These products
are little absorbed by a healthy or slightly scarified skin. Skin
absorption by a seriously injured or burned skin can be
significant and be the source of intoxication in the case of a
local treatment containing boron.


of preparation :

There is a
significant difference of absorption between the hydrated forms
(< 1%) and the gel forms (20%).


COLOR="#004080">II-Distribution :


The distribution
in the body is ubiquitous; the concentration in body fluids is
identical to that of the plasma.

There are however
two exceptions: the bone, where it concentrates (two to three
times the plasmatic levels), and the fat tissue where one finds
only 20% of the plasmatic levels. There is no active transfer
between the blood compartment and tissues.


COLOR="#004080">III-Bio-transformation :


In the body,
borates are metabolized to boric acid which remains unchanged.




Whatever the
route of entry, excretion is mainly urinary (80 to 85% of the
absorbed amount) in the form of boric acid, and less in the form
of borates. Small amounts are found in the feces and perspiration.

Although not
properly evaluated, its half-life of elimination is less than 20
hours. In the case of massive ingestion, elimination is biphasic,
50% in 12 hours and 50% in 1 to 3 weeks.


Intoxication :


A-Oral Lethal
Dose (LD) :

In man, the oral
LD may be estimated in the following manner :

1-Newborn= 1 to 3


3-Adult= 15 to 20



Period :

whatever the
route of intoxication, a delay of a few hours precedes


Findings :

disorders : nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains.

disorders : headaches, tremors, agitation, convulsions,

intoxication : coma, collapse, metabolic acidosis, cyanosis, fever
and respiratory depression.

impairment : tubular necrosis may occur (oliguria and proteinuria,
possibly anuria).

disorders (after a few days) : extensive desquamative dermatitis
beginning with erythema involving the palms of the hands, the
soles of the feet and the buttocks, with the possibility of a
secondary generalization (formation of bubbles, massive
exfoliation), similar to Ritter's syndrome (exfoliative dermatitis
of the newborn). Alopecia may be observed.


Death occurs due
to infections, shock, neurological complications, the autopsy
showing renal tubular necrosis, cerebral oedema, hepatitis and


Findings :

The intoxication
is confirmed by measuring boron in blood, which is detectable
below 1µg/L. by many techniques:


1-In adults:

a-toxic effects
are observable from 15 to 20 mg/L. of blood boron,

b-signs of
severity are seen as low as 40 mg/L,

c-the presence of
more than 40 mg/L. suggests a serious intoxication,

d-the evolution
may be fatal for concentrations equal to 500 mg/L.


2-In newborns :

a-toxic effects
have been observed for blood boron levels as low as 4 mg/L.



In studies dating
from the 50s, mortality is estimated at more than 50%; it relates
primarily to accidental intoxications in children.

As from the 80s,
in an American series, intoxications are generally asymptomatic
(88.3%), and never fatal. This difference may be explained by a
better way of dealing with these intoxications.



Above all,
treatment is aimed at purifying (skin and mucous membranes wash,
gastric wash, hemodialysis, peritoneal dialysis ), and


Irritation :

1-Borax: is a
severe eye irritant.

2-Boron and
borates: are not or only slight skin irritants.

3-Boron oxide:
causes slight irritation of the skin and mucous membranes (skin
irritation, ocular irritation, nosebleed, dryness of the mouth,
the throat and the nose, pharyngeal pain, sputum, cough),
disappearing at the end of exposure without pulmonary impairment,
nor long-term effect.



Intoxication :

In man, the
repeated inappropriate use of boric acid has caused, particularly
in children, chronic intoxications characterized primarily by
cutaneo-mucous, hair and nails disorders.




-red coloured

-cracks of the

- loss of hair,




These effects are
close to those observed at the time of acute intoxication and are
related to boron accumulation in the body. These disorders are
usually reversible at the cessation of its use; they are enhanced
by the presence of a pre-existing kidney insufficiency.

Workers exposed
to dust of borates or boron oxide present signs of rhinitis,
conjunctivitis or cough. In the long run, no pulmonary impairment
has been found.

In the case of
chronic intoxication, blood boron levels are frequently higher
than 30 mg/L.


COLOR="#004080">Effects on reproduction :


COLOR="#004080">A-Experimentally :

experimentation has revealed disorders of reproduction related to
boric acid and borax exposure. These were testicular and fertility

The mechanism of
this toxicity is not completely elucidated. In the female rat, an
increase in the number of spontaneous abortions and a fall in the
number of litters were observed.

A study relating
to development shows that boric acid causes birth defects in three
(3) species studied (rat, rabbit, mouse).


B-In Man

A previous study
carried out in Russia with exposure levels varying from 20 to 83
mg/m3 at 50% of the studied workstations i.e. 2 to 8 times the
currently allowed exposure limit, showed a reduction of sexual
activity and a deterioration of the quality of the sperm

In the USA, these
results were not confirmed in a study of 542 workers whose average
exposure was 19.7 mg/m3.


As far as birth
defects in man are concerned, there does not seem to be any case
reported in the literature.


COLOR="#004080">Carcinogenesis and Mutagenesis :


COLOR="#004080">A-Experimentally :

1-Boric acid has
not caused genetic mutations nor chromosomal abnormalities in a
series of in vitro experiments on bacteria or eucaryotic cells.

2-In the rat and
in the mouse, no carcirogenic effect due to boric acid has been
found during a 2 year experiment.


B-In man

studies have also been negative.


Limits :


I-Gerstley Borate

VEMP (Quebec) : 5


II-Boron oxide

A-IDLH (Immediate
danger to life and health) 2,000 mg/m3



tetraborate, anhydrous or Anhydrous Borax (Na2B4O7) :

VEMP : 1


tetraborate, decahydrate or Borax or Decahydrate Borax :

VEMP : 5 mg/m3


COLOR="#004080">Prevention :


Laws on
Occupational Health and Safety aim at the elimination of hazards
at the source.

When engineering
methods and modifications of working methods are not able to
sufficiently reduce the exposure to these substances, the wearing
of personal protective gears may become necessary. These
protective gears must be in conformity with regulation.





Repertoire Toxicologique, 2002

Industrielle et Intoxications Professionnelles, Lauwerys R., last

COLOR="#004080">3-Potterycrafts-MSDS, United Kingdom, avril

Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials, Lewis C., last

5-Bore et ses
composés, Encyclopédie Médico-Chirurgicale,
Toxicologie-Pathologie Professionnelle, M. Falcy, mai

6-Clay and
Glazes for the Potter, Rhodes Daniel, 1973.



By Edouard Bastarache

Related Information


Typecodes Article by Edouard Bastarache
Edouard Bastarache is a well known doctor that has written many articles on the subject of toxicity of ceramic materials and books on technical aspects of ceramics. He writes in both English and French.
Materials Borax Decahydrate
Materials Anhydrous Borax
A white, odorless product crystalline granular by dehydrating Borax to remove the crystal bound water.
Materials Borax Pentahydrate
Minerals Borate Minerals
The major borate minerals are Colemanite and Ulexite. The geology required for borates is found in v

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