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Public Health Statement for Boron
This Public Health Statement is the summary chapter from the Toxicological Profile for boron. It is one in a series of Public Health Statements about hazardous substances and their health effects. A shorter version, ToxFAQs™, is also available. This information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-800-232-4636.
This public health statement tells you about boron and the effects of exposure to it.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies the most serious hazardous waste sites in the nation. These sites are then placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) and are targeted for long-term federal clean-up activities. Boron and boron compounds have been found in at least 164 of the 1,689 current or former NPL sites. Although the total number of NPL sites evaluated for this substance is not known, the possibility exists that the number of sites at which boron is found may increase in the future as more sites are evaluated. This information is important because these sites may be sources of exposure and exposure to this substance may harm you.
When a substance is released either from a large area, such as an industrial plant, or from a container, such as a drum or bottle, it enters the environment. Such a release does not always lead to exposure. You can be exposed to a substance only when you come in contact with it. You may be exposed by breathing, eating, or drinking the substance, or by skin contact.
If you are exposed to boron, many factors will determine whether you will be harmed. These factors include the dose (how much), the duration (how long), and how you come in contact with it. You must also consider any other chemicals you are exposed to and your age, sex, diet, family traits, lifestyle, and state of health
1.1 What is boron?
Boron is a widely occurring element in minerals found in the earth’s crust. It is the 51st most common element found in the earth’s crust and is found at an average concentration of 8 mg/kg (approximately 0.0008%).
|Combines with oxygen to form borates||
Boron is found in the environment primarily combined with oxygen in compounds called borates. Common borate compounds include:
|Used to manufacture industrial and consumer products||
Borate-containing minerals are mined and processed to produce borates for several industrial uses in the United States including:
1.2 What happens to boron when it enters the environment?
|Released into air, water, and soil||
Boron can be released into air, water, or soil after natural weathering of soils and rocks.
Smaller amounts of boron can be released from:
|Is not broken down||
Boron cannot be destroyed in the environment. It can only change its form or become attached or separated from particles in soil, sediment, and water.
1.3 How might I be exposed to boron?
You can be exposed to boron in food, mainly vegetables and fruits, as boron is an essential element in plants. The average daily intake of boron for adults is 1 milligram.
Boron is widely distributed in surface water and groundwater.
Average concentrations of 26 and 33 mg per kilogram (mg/kg) have been reported in soil.
general public is not likely to be exposed to air contaminated with boron.
The average level of boron in air samples is 0.00005 mg boron per cubic
meter of air (mg boron/m3).
|Workplace air||In workplaces that mine and process borates, boron concentrations in dusty air samples have been reported to range from about 0.5 to 3 mg boron/m3.|
Boric acid, anhydrous sodium tetraborate, and sodium tetraborate decahydrate (borax) are found in consumer products such as:
1.4 How can boron enter and leave my body?
|Most ingested boron is absorbed||
Boron can enter your body when you eat food (fruits and vegetables), drink water containing it, when you breathe borate dust in the air, and when damaged skin comes in contact with it.
|Typically leaves your body within 4 days||
Most of the boron leaves the body in urine.
Over half of the boron taken by mouth can be found in urine within 24 hours and the other half can be detected in urine for up to 4 days
1.5 How can boron affect my health?
Scientists use many tests to protect the public from harmful effects of toxic chemicals and to find ways for treating persons who have been harmed.
The effect of boron on human health depends on how much boron is present, how you are exposed to it, and the length of exposure.
|Exposure in air||
People working in dusty workplaces where borates are mined and processed have reported irritation of the nose, throat, and eyes. The irritation does not persist for long periods after leaving the dusty area.
|Exposure by ingestion||
Humans: Exposure to large amounts of boron (about 30 g of boric acid) over short periods of time can affect the stomach, intestines, liver, kidney, and brain and can eventually lead to death.
Animals: Studies of dogs, rats, and mice indicate that the male reproductive organs, especially the testes, are affected if large amounts of boron are ingested for short or long periods of time. The doses that produced these effects in animals are more than 1,800 times higher than the average daily intake of boron in food by adults in the U.S. population.
No evidence of cancer was found in a study in which mice were given boric acid in the diet throughout their lifetime.
1.6 How can boron affect children?
This section discusses potential health effects in humans from exposures during the period from conception to maturity at 18 years of age.
|Children are likely to have similar||
It is likely that children would show the same health effects as adults. We do not know whether children differ in their susceptibility to the effects of boron.
We do not know whether boron causes birth defects in people. Low birth weights, birth defects, and developmental delays have occurred in newborn animals whose mothers were orally exposed to high doses of boron (as boric acid). The doses that produced these effects in pregnant animals are more than 800 times higher than the average daily intake of boron in food by adult women in the U.S. population.
1.7 How can families reduce the risk of exposure to boron?
Boron is part of the natural environment and you will have some exposure from foods and drinking water.
|Limit children's exposure to pesticides||
Pesticides containing boron compounds should be used according to their directions and should be kept away from children.
|Store household chemicals out of reach of young children||
store household chemicals in their original labeled containers out of
reach of young children to prevent accidental poisonings. Never store
household chemicals in containers children would find attractive to eat
or drink from, such as old soda bottles.
|Discourage children from eating dirt or putting hands in their mouth while playing with dirt||
Children living near waste sites containing boron and boron compounds are likely to be exposed to higher than normal environmental levels of boron through breathing in boron-containing dust, and touching and eating contaminated soil.
Children should be encouraged to wash their hands frequently, especially before eating.
1.8 Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to boron?
|Can be measured in blood and urine||
Blood and urine can be examined to determine whether excessive exposure to boron has occurred.
The detection of boron in the blood or urine cannot be used to predict
the kind of health effects that might develop from that exposure.
1.9 What recommendations has the federal government made to protect human health?
The federal government develops regulations and recommendations to protect public health. Regulations can be enforced by law. The EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are some federal agencies that develop regulations for toxic substances. Recommendations provide valuable guidelines to protect public health, but cannot be enforced by law. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are two federal organizations that develop recommendations for toxic substances.
Regulations and recommendations can be expressed as “not-to-exceed” levels, that is, levels of a toxic substance in air, water, soil, or food that do not exceed a critical value that is usually based on levels that affect animals; they are then adjusted to levels that will help protect humans. Sometimes these not-to-exceed levels differ among federal organizations because they used different exposure times (an 8-hour workday or a 24-hour day), different animal studies, or other factors.
Recommendations and regulations are also updated periodically as more information becomes available. For the most current information, check with the federal agency or organization that provides it.
Some regulations and recommendations for boron include the following:
|Levels in drinking||
The EPA has determined that exposure to boron in drinking water at concentrations of 4 mg/L for one day or 0.9 mg/L for 10 days is not expected to cause any adverse effects in a child.
The EPA has determined that lifetime exposure to 1 mg/L boron is not expected to cause any adverse effects.
|Levels in workplace air set by OSHA||
ReferencesAgency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2010. Toxicological profile for Boron. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-57
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO · 888-232-6348 (TTY)
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.
Information line and technical assistance:
To order toxicological profiles, contact:
National Technical Information Service
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
Phone: 800-553-6847 or 703-605-6000
Some PDF files may be electronic conversions from paper copy or other electronic ASCII text files. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors. Users are referred to the original paper copy of the toxicological profile for the official text, figures, and tables. Original paper copies can be obtained via the directions on the toxicological profile home page, which also contains other important information about the profiles.
The information contained here was correct at the time of publication. Please check with the appropriate agency for any changes to the regulations or guidelines cited.
- Page last reviewed: March 3, 2011
- Page last updated: March 3, 2011
- Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry