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Lithium Toxicology

There is no described professional intoxication from the use of this element. Data on its toxicity to man comes from its use as the treatment of choice in manic-depressive states, and from suicidal attempts.

Treatment with lithium carbonate may cause the following:

1. Moderate side-effects

2. More severe side-effects

3. Severe intoxication leads to convulsions and coma which can be hyperosmolar.

4. Prolonged treatment

Toxic manifestations may occur when the serum concentration exceeds 10.4mg/L. A concentration higher than 25mg/L justifies treatment by dialysis.(1)

The toxic and therapeutic blood levels are very close, so any activity leading to loosing much body water may switch a patient taking lithium carbonate form the therapeutic to the toxic zone, as in sweating excessively in melting departments of steel mills.

Also many anti-inflammatory drugs raise lithium blood levels of patients and may cause the intoxication, one major offender being ibuprofen ( Motrin, Advil). It is important to remember this name because it may be sold without a prescription.

Other possible offenders are ketorolac (Toradol), diclofenac (Voltaren), indomethacin (Indocid), naproxen (Naprosyn), fenoprofen (Nalfon), celexobib (Celebrex), rofecoxib (Vioxx). (2)

There is no such thing as a single case of lithium intoxication described in the pertaining literature from the use of it in glaze making or from the use of ceramic wares covered by lithium-containing glazes.

The only lithium compound that is reported as a severe hazard is lithium hydride (LiH), which is used as a condensing agent in chemical synthesis with acid esters and ketones, as a dessicant (a reducing agent), and as a hydrogen source.

The hydride is a severe irritant to skin and mucous membranes because it becomes lithium hydroxide when in contact with moisture of these structures.(3)

So, if you do not use the hydride, have a nice day.

  1. Toxicologie Industrielle et Intoxications Professionnelles, Lauwerys R. last edition.
  2. Sylvie Dumaine, pharmacist, Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, Canada (2002)
  3. Occupational Medicine, Zenz Carl, last edition.

By Edouard Bastarache

Related Information


Materials Lithium Carbonate
A powerful melter very valuable in ceramic glazes. It is 40% Li2O and has an LOI of 60% (lost as CO2 on firing). This material in now incredibly expensive.
Materials Spodumene
Spodumene is a lithium sourcing feldspar, an alternative to lithium carbonate to supply Li2O to ceramic glazes. Contains up to about 8% Li2O.
Materials Lepidolite
Hazards Lithium Carbonate Toxicity
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.

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