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Dangers of Strontium

Strontium is indicated by 'Sr' and has an atomic number of 38 on the periodic table. It occurs naturally, but only in compounds with other elements like the minerals, strontianite and celestite. Alone it's extremely reactive. In the air, strontium spontaneously combusts to strontium oxide and strontium nitride. In water, strontium decomposes to strontium hydroxide and hydrogen gas.

Strontium salts display crimson color of flames. This property makes it popular in pyrotechnics use and flare production.

Natural strontium is a mixture of four isotopes. One major use of strontium compounds is for the cathode ray tubes of color televisions, to prevent X-ray emissions. 90Sr is comparatively cheaper than 238Pu to produce since strontium is present in nuclear waste and it's formed during the explosion of nuclear weapons.

Because it's so reactive with air and water, when strontium is held, it's usually contained under kerosene because that solution prevents oxidation.

Interactions with Strontium

Strontium is very popular in the medical field. The isotope 89Sr has been recognized to have the ability to help with bone degeneration due to prostate cancer. It's actually introduced to bone at sites of osteogenesis since it behaves much like calcium, only it focuses radiation exposure on the cancerous lesion. Other uses for strontium include:

  • Ceramic glazes, pyrotechnics and medicines
  • Strontium dust can be breathed in, eaten or drunk

How does strontium behave in the body?

Strontium is absorbed by the bone like calcium because of its compositional similarity. The stable strontium substances don't pose a threat. In fact, there is currently a drug produced that combines ranelic acid with strontium; it aides in bone growth and denser bones, and lessens vertebral, peripheral and hip fractures.

Stable strontium can cause cancer when present in strontium chromate, but the carcinogenic effect is assigned more to chromium. 90Sr, a radioactive isotope, can cause cancer in high doses. Research has registered this element 90Sr is part of the cause for several types of cancer including leukemia, bone nose, lung and skin.

How can strontium affect children?

  • In children, the danger from radioactive strontium is more pronounced than in adults. High levels present can lead to impaired bone growth
  • Children may be more susceptible than adults to the harmful effects of radioactive strontium
  • Exposure to high levels of stable strontium can result in impaired bone growth in children
  • Bone tumors
  • Blood-cell forming organs can get tumors

We do not know if exposure to strontium will result in birth defects or other developmental effects in people. Birth defects have been observed in animals exposed to radioactive strontium.

What can be done about exposure to strontium?

Much of the strontium that we come into contact with is not permanently damaging to us. However, there is still a threat. And one thing that you can do is to eat a healthy diet. A good idea is to include in a balanced diet, sufficient amounts of calcium, protein and vitamin D. These will decrease the amount your body is willing to absorb from strontium to ameliorate what it's missing.

Almost everyone has stable strontium in their bodies. However, it's not always at safe levels. There are tests to measure the level of strontium in the blood, urine, hair and feces. When you know that you've been exposed to high levels, these tests are very helpful, although they can't determine the exact levels of strontium exposure to your body. Neither will the tests predict the affect on your health, of the strontium measured in your tissues.

The tests that are available for radioactive strontium measure two things:

  • If you've been exposed to a large amount of radiation (not necessarily strontium)
  • If strontium is present in your body – it measures urine, teeth, saliva, blood, feces and your entire body, to see if strontium is being excreted. It measures if it's in your teeth or if it remains in your body at excessive levels.

Samples are collected by your physician, or you'll have to go to a lab to have the tests done.