Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Dangerous elements
Name: d c whitbeck
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999 


Question:
What element is the most dangerous to be handled?



Replies:
Plutonium. When machined as it is to assemble atomic bombs a fine dust is generated, which emits alpha radiation. The radiation from even a small amount of plutonium dust inhaled into your lungs will give you lung cancer. Plutonium is therefore handled in sealed glove boxes. However, the dust can get in the ventilation system, as it did at the Rocky Flats plant outside of Denver, requiring an incredibly expensive cleanup if it is not to be released into the atmosphere.

The most dangerous element you're likely to meet in chemistry is probably mercury. It evaporates readily at room temperature, and the concentrated vapor is highly poisonous. It can cause brain damage over the long term. This is why chemistry teachers are quick to clean up broken thermometers: although there is not much danger from the tiny amount of mercury in a thermometer, it pays to be safe.

The most dangerous element in general public circulation is probably lead. It is put into the air by burning and fueling with leaded gasoline, and it appears in old paint. It also can cause brain damage, especially in young children. For this reason among others the federal government banned the sale of leaded gasoline, and the State of Illinois recommends that young children be tested for lead in their first few years.

christopher grayce



Click here to return to the Chemistry Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory