You may have read the ingredients list on any of several chemicals, products and substances you use daily and are wondering what it's all about. Or maybe you're taking an organic chemistry class and want to know more about the uses of boron. Whatever your reasons, there are many important and interesting things to know about boric acid--including its history, uses, dangers and future.
Boric acid is a manmade material made from elements that occur naturally, though boric acid itself is not naturally found. These elements are boron, hydrogen and oxygen. Boric acid is also known sometimes as orthoboric acid and boracic acid. Borax is a common name mistaken for boric acid but is really the element boron mixed with certain salts. All substances containing boric acid and other materials are called borates. Boric acid, borax and borates are often used interchangeably, if incorrectly.
There are many uses for boric acid. Antiseptic, baby powder, vaginal medication, bug spray and bomb, several kinds of flame retardants, glass and fiberglass protectant, wood preservative, shampoo, ointment, contact lens cleaner, mouthwash and bath salt are all common uses of boric acid. However, boric acid is used in small amounts in these products and must be handled appropriately.
Boric acid has been traced back through thousands of years, primarily in China. The Chinese used boric acid in 900 AD for ceramic glazes, and the Arabians were known to have used it for the purpose of a preservative when they fabricated gold and silver currency. Although boric acid does not occur in nature, borates--substances that contain boric acid--do. Boric acid was not manmade until 1702, and since then has been used and developed for the multiple uses stated above.
The risk of poisoning is high when materials containing boric acid are accidentally ingested. Symptoms of boric acid poisoning include collapse, coma, fever, low blood pressure, twitching of muscles, decreased urine output, drowsiness, blisters, convulsions and lack of desire for anything. If you or anyone you know is suspected of ingesting a product containing boric acid in any amount, it's extremely important to seek medical help immediately. Knowing the victim's information, as well as the amount, time, and type of substance ingested, greatly helps health care providers.
New uses for boric acid are being developed and produced every day. In recent times, for instance, boric acid has been included in nutritional supplements with the belief that it encourages joint and bone health. Boric acid is even being considered as a contributor to an environmentally healthier fuel.