Iodine is a funny element. Most of us have probably encountered it only once or twice in high school chemistry, where we made it turn into a purple gas in the heat of a flame. But it is absolutely essential for the proper working of the human body and without it, we’d all be dead. But if you were to keep iodine around the home, would it be a fire hazard, and should you take precautions?
Iodine is not flammable itself, as it is not a fuel source. However, it can act as an oxidizer, which means that it can cause fires to burn hotter, faster, and more intensely.
This means that iodine can still be a serious issue when it comes to fire. Here is what you need to know.
Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
Table of Contents
- What Is Iodine?
- Does Iodine Sublimate?
- Can You Dump Iodine Down The Sink?
- Is Iodine Poisonous To Humans?
- Is Iodine Considered Corrosive?
- Does Iodine Irritate Skin?
- What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Iodine?
- How Long Does It Take To Reverse Iodine Deficiency?
What Is Iodine?
Iodine is a non-metallic element that is in the same period of the periodic table as chlorine and bromine, though it is less reactive than both of those elements.
It might shock you to learn that a deficiency of iodine is the leading cause of preventable intellectual disabilities around the world.
And that around 2 billion people have a shortage of iodine in their diets!
Its most important role in the body is to help synthesize hormones in the thyroid gland.
An interesting fact is that it is the heaviest element that is essential to human life.
Almost all of the world’s iodine is produced in either China or Japan and the vast majority of the production is sent to food and nutrition processing plants.
It is also used in x-rays as it can be a “radiocontrast” material (i.e. one that shows up as a different color to human flesh) and it is also mainly non-toxic.
Iodine is not only useful in the thyroid when it is healthy, but it can also be used (thanks to its ability to be absorbed by the body in radioactive isotopes) to treat cancer of the thyroid!
It is also used in small quantities in the production of plastics.
Also read: Is Hydrochloric Acid Flammable?
Is Iodine Flammable?
Iodine is not flammable because it reacts with other substances in the same way that oxygen does and thus it is an “oxidizing agent”.
Flammable materials are the fuel for fires, not the oxidizing agents.
Not, that this matters much from an observational point of view.
Iodine will still be consumed in a fire and because it is an oxidizing agent, it may increase the severity of the fire and the heat that it puts out.
It’s a bad idea to keep iodine laying around the place and when it is used, it should be stored safely and effectively following any material safety data sheet provided with it.
In the home, however, we only tend to have iodine as a tiny ingredient in our food and its ability to bolster fire intensity is probably irrelevant.
Also read: Is Ammonia Flammable?
What Is the Flashpoint?
Iodine does not have a flashpoint, per se, because it does not burn in oxygen, however, it forms a gas at temperatures under 200 degrees Celsius (or 392 degrees Fahrenheit), and at this point, it can easily act as an oxidizing agent for a fire.
Does Iodine Sublimate?
Yes, if you remember that high school chemistry experiment when you heated some iodine and got a nice thick purple gas as the end product, you will probably remember that iodine has some unusual chemistry.
It’s melting and boiling points are quite close together and this often leads to iodine skipping the liquid phase of matter and going straight from solid to gas, this is a process known as sublimation.
Can You Dump Iodine Down The Sink?
In the small quantities that iodine is found in products in domestic use, it’s fine for it to be disposed of down the sink.
In fact, one of the most common domestic forms of iodine is in iodized table salt and nobody would think twice about dumping some salt down the drain.
However, in larger quantities, it is important to examine the proper legal disposal method for any compound or chemical.
As the advice on this varies from compound to compound and from place to place, the best thing to do is first read any material data safety sheet supplied with the product and if that doesn’t clear things up – contact either the manufacturer or your local state environmental protection agency to find out what to do.
Is Iodine Poisonous To Humans?
Iodine is an essential element to human health and it’s important for us all to consume enough iodine in our daily diet to ensure that our thyroid works well and that we don’t give ourselves an avoidable brain problem.
At the same time, if you consume too much iodine it can damage that thyroid you were hoping to preserve and if you intend to supplement iodine, you should talk to a physician before incorporating it into your diet long-term.
Iodine does not cause cancer though it is possible that consuming high doses of radioactive iodine might cause thyroid cancer. The jury is still out on that and there’s not enough evidence to say conclusively that it does or doesn’t.
What Happens If You Breathe In the Vapor?
Breathing in iodine, however, is a bad idea.
Iodine can severely damage your eyes and respiratory tract.
It can cause breathing difficulties, headaches, chest tightness, lung congestion, and even death.
So, if you ever decide to sublimate iodine again, try not to get too close to the fumes.
Is Iodine Considered Corrosive?
Yes, iodine is corrosive though not as much as bromine or chlorine and as it is a solid at room temperature, it’s easier to store safely too.
Is It Reactive With Water?
Yes, iodine reacts with water though it doesn’t react very strongly, it can be used to sterilize drinking water because of its corrosive powers and, in fact, for many decades hikers and campers have taken iodine tablets with them to do just that.
The resulting end product is considered safe to drink.
Why Has It Been Banned In The EU?
The EU and all its member states have been the use of iodine tablets because it appears that some people have been abusing them for iodine supplementation and this can be dangerous if carried out over a long period of time.
This doesn’t mean that you have to drink dirty water on a hike though as you can buy chlorine tablets for the same purpose, instead.
Does Iodine Irritate Skin?
Because iodine is corrosive it can irritate and even stain the skin, short term exposure is unlikely to cause too much damage but it’s a bad idea to keep iodine in contact with the skin for long periods of time.
You should also never bandage over any area of skin that has been disinfected with iodine as you might cause iodine burns.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Iodine?
If you don’t get enough iodine in your diet it can cause hypothyroidism (low levels of the hormones produced by the thyroid) and this can cause:
- Tiredness, fatigue and lethargy
- Poor memory
- Weight gain
- Muscular weakness
- Increased blood cholesterol
- Pain in your muscles and joints
- A slow heart rate
- Thin hair
- Heavier periods
- Dry Skin
- Puffy facial tissue
It may also be the cause of:
- Low IQ
- Learning difficulties
- Mental disabilities (this is very much true in children)
And eventually, it can cause heart failure, neuropathy, permanent brain damage, and, in women, infertility, stillbirth, and miscarriage.
How Long Does It Take To Reverse Iodine Deficiency?
You should not self-prescribe iodine due to the potentially toxic effects of consuming too much in your diet.
However, if your doctor investigates and finds that you have an iodine deficiency it takes around three months of supplementation to completely reverse the deficiency, possibly longer in some individuals.
It is important to work with your doctor to determine when the deficiency has been reversed and to reduce or stop taking supplements.