Lithium

September 15, 2022

What is Lithium?

Lithium (chemical formula: Li), is a silvery-white coloured, light, soft metal. It is odourless and must be kept under a mineral oil or other liquid free from oxygen or water. Lithium is lighter than water and is soluble in ammonia, forming a blue solution. Lithium also has high electrical conductivity as well as causing a violent reaction with water upon its evolution into hydrogen. 

What is Lithium used for?

Available in lithium ingots; rods; wire; ribbon and pellets, lithium is used in the production of alloys (especially lithium bearing metals), glass, ceramics, aircraft and missile fuels, nuclear reactor coolant, lubricants, batteries and medications.   

Lithium salts are used in medications to treat conditions such as bipolar disorder and depression. The medication is classified as a mood stabiliser that can decrease the chance of suicide in patients with these conditions.   

Most lithium is used to make lithium-ion batteries for use in electronic devices, such as mobile phones, as well as in electric vehicles. 

With the rising popularity of electric vehicles, the demand for lithium will continue to grow.  
With the rising popularity of electric vehicles, the demand for lithium will continue to grow.  

Lithium Hazards

The routes of exposure for lithium include inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of lithium fumes and dusts may be harmful to the individual, causing headaches, nausea, vomiting, fever/chills, sudden thirst, a sweet/foul metallic taste, throat irritation, cough, tiredness, restlessness, sweating, diarrhoea, excess urination and a feeling of general unwellness. People with already compromised respiratory function (conditions such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis), may suffer further disability upon inhalation. 

Ingestion of lithium can cause chemical burns in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. In large doses. It can cause dizziness and weakness and possible kidney damage.

Direct skin contact to lithium can cause chemical burns, with other harmful health effects expected following entry into the bloodstream through open cuts and wounds. 

Direct eye contact with lithium may produce chemical burns and severe eye damage, while eye exposure to lithium vapours/mists can cause extreme irritation. 

Prolonged exposure to lithium may cause erosion of teeth, inflammation/ulcers to the mouth, changes in lung function and bronchial irritation. Lithium can also accumulate in the body and begin to affect the nervous system and muscles, causing tremors and inco-ordiation, amongst other symptoms. 

Lithium Safety

If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. Lay them down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR. Seek medical attention without delay. 

If swallowed, urgent hospital treatment is likely to be required. Do not induce vomiting, but if vomiting does occur, lean the patient forward or on their left side to prevent aspiration. Give the patient water to rinse their mouth out—the patient should then slowly drink as much as they comfortably can. Seek medical attention without delay.

If skin exposure occurs, remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories and use a safety shower to cleanse the affected area with plenty of water. Seek medical attention without delay.

If lithium is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Do not attempt to remove any particles in the eye, as this and the removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Seek medical attention without delay.

Lithium Safety Handling

Emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and adequate ventilation is also essential (install local exhaust if necessary).

The PPE recommended when handling lithium includes chemical goggles, full face shields, dust respirators, PVC/neoprene/leather gloves, overalls and safety footwear/boots.

Lithium can cause harmful and chronic effects when exposed to the body. Ensure you are properly protected with recommended PPE before handling the chemical. Click here for a trial of our SDS Management Software or contact us at sales@chemwatch.net for more information about our chemicals management solutions. 

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