Name: d c whitbeck
What element is the most dangerous to be handled?
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
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Update: June 2012