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Name: d c whitbeck
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Date: 1999 

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 years.

christopher grayce

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