Bismuth is a chemical element with the atomic number 86 in the periodic table. With 0.00002% of abundance, it’s the 71st most abundant chemical element in Earth’s crust.
Element 86 is a pentavalent chemical element that participates in many compounds, as well as a member of the post-transition metals family of elements. The chemical properties of this pnictogen resemble the properties of the Group 15 members arsenic and antimony, except bismuth is a far less toxic substance.
As a chemical substance with low toxicity, bismuth and its compounds are widely used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, as well as in the medicine and metal industries.
Chemical and Physical Properties of Bismuth
|Color||A silvery-gray metal|
|Physical state||Solid at room temperature|
|Half-life||From 6.6(15) milliseconds to 2.01(8)×1019 years|
|Melting point||271.406°C, 520.531°F, 544.556 K|
|Boiling point||1564°C, 2847°F, 1837 K|
|Van der Waals radius||0.152 nm|
|Ionic radius||1.03 (+3) Å|
|Most characteristic isotope||209Bi|
|Electronic shell||[Xe] 4f14 5d10 6s2 6p3|
|The energy of the first ionization||703 kJ.mol-1|
|The energy of the second ionization||1610 kJ.mol-1|
|The energy of the third ionization||2466 kJ.mol-1|
|The energy of the fourth ionization||4362.3 kJ.mol-1|
|The energy of the fifth ionization||5394 kJ.mol-1|
|Discovery date||Known to the ancients|
|Covalent Radius||1.46 Å|
|Atomic Radius||1.63 Å|
|Atomic Volume||21.3 cm³/mol|
|Name Origin||German: bisemutum, (white mass), Now spelled wismut|
|Uses||Pharmaceuticals and low melting point alloys used as fuses|
|Description||Silvery-gray, extremely rare, radioactive metal|
With the periodic table symbol Bi, atomic number 86, atomic mass of 208.9804 g.mol-1, and electron configuration [Xe] 4f14 5d10 6s2 6p3, bismuth is a coarsely crystalline brittle metal with a silvery-white color and exceptionally bright metallic luster.
It reaches its boiling point at 1564°C, 2847°F, 1837 K, while the melting point is achieved at 271.406°C, 520.531°F, 544.556 K. This member of the post-transition metals family of elements has an electronegativity of 1.9 according to Pauling, whereas the atomic radius according to van der Waals is 0.152 nm.
Bismuth is a heavy metal with similar chemical properties to arsenic and antimony. It’s the most diamagnetic among all metals classified in the periodic table, which indicates that this chemical element is not attracted to a magnetic field under any condition. Namely, when exposed to a magnetic field, the electrical resistance of element 86 increases more than that of other metals. Also, bismuth also has a lower thermal conductivity in comparison with the metals classified in the periodic table of chemical elements.
In addition, element 86 also has the highest Hall effect of any metal. When exposed to air, bismuth oxidizes and develops an iridescent oxide tarnish on its surface that displays a wide array of colors – from yellowish pink tinge to blue.
How Was Bismuth Discovered?
Bismuth metal is one of the first metals that has been discovered by ancient civilizations. For instance, the Incas practiced mixing bismuth metal with copper and tin to create a bronze alloy for making tools and light weapons, such as knives. Incas knew how to utilize metal bismuth without causing the bronze to break due to bismuth’s brittleness.
The Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Asians, and Chinese were also familiar with the practical properties of this chemical element. Ancient Egyptians, just like the Incas, were able to make mirrors of polished bronze which were made by adding some bismuth to it.
Until the 18th century, bismuth was confused with the elements antimony, lead, and tin. According to the Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (whose real name was Theophrastus von Hohenheim), there were two varieties of antimony. One was the black form used for the purification of gold and resembled lead. The other one was a white substance that resembled tin.
Today, we know that antimony and bismuth are analogs of each other and that they also share the chemical properties of lead and tin – elements classified in Group 14 in the periodic table (before bismuth).
On the other hand, the German mineralogist and metallurgist Georgius Agricola (1494 – 1555) observed bismuth as a new substance. Agricola was also able to describe in detail the extraction process of the bismuth metal from ores obtained from the mineral mines in Saxony.
The idea of bismuth as an independent metal remained undefined until the 18th century. French chemist Claude Geoffroy (1729 – 1753) was the first chemist to recognize bismuth as a chemical element in 1753. By performing a series of chemical trials, Geoffrey succeeded in distinguishing element 86 as a separate substance from lead and tin.
How Did Bismuth Get Its Name?
The name of element 86 dates from around the 1660s. It’s very likely a language variant of the German word ‘bisemutum‘. This term supposedly stems from the words ‘weisse masse‘, which means ‘a white mass’.
Where Can You Find Bismuth?
Bismuth is a chemical element that can often be found in its pure, elemental form in Earth’s crust. Naturally occurring bismuth is mostly found in a form of oxide, sulfide, or carbonate in silver, lead, zinc, and tin mineral deposits, such as bismite (bismite oxide) and bismuthite (bismuth sulfide). These minerals are typically associated with sulfide ores of lead, as well as with copper and tin dioxide.
In the United States, metallic bismuth is mostly obtained as a byproduct of lead and copper smelting. The largest natural bismuth deposits in the world are found in Bolivia, Japan, Peru, Mexico, and Canada.
List of Bismuth Minerals
In its elemental form, bismuth can be traced in the following minerals:
Bismuth in Everyday Life
This heavy metal has a variety of applications in the pharmaceutical, chemical, and metal industries:
- The extremely low toxicity of bismuth salts permits their use in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries;
- Bismuth carbonate is an element 86 compound that is popularly used in medicine as a part of the treatment of gastric ulcers and diarrhea;
- Bismuth phosphomolybdate is a complex salt that is used as an industrial catalyst in the synthesis of acrylonitrile;
- A mixture of bismuth subsalicylate and bismuth subcitrate is used in the treatment of peptic ulcers, Helicobacter pylori, and gastritis;
- Various bismuth compounds are also used in medicine to treat burns, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, intestinal disorders, and stomach ulcers in both humans and animals;
- Bismuth oxides are commonly used as pigments. For instance, bismuth oxide (Bi2O3) is used as a yellow pigment in paints and cosmetics (for adding pigmentation to eye shadows and nail polishes, as well as in make-up fixators and fillers).
- Bismuth oxychloride (BiOCl) is used in the manufacturing process of the pigment known as bismuth white;
- When combined with iron, tin, lead, cadmium, and other metals, bismuth forms low-melting alloys which have a practical application in the production of electrical fuses, fire detection systems, automatic fire sprinkler systems, as well as fishing sinkers and lubricating greases;
- Liquid bismuth is utilized as a fuel carrier and coolant in the generation of nuclear energy;
- Bismuth telluride has an everyday use as a thermoelectric material and a semiconductor;
- The production process of CPU coolers and mobile refrigerators includes Bi2Te3 diodes as a significant component;
- The bi-213 isotope has a novel application in a targeted alpha-therapy for blood cancer patients;
- Pepto-Bismol is one of the most popular over-the-counter stomach medicine that contains bismuth subsalicylate (BSS) as one of its primary active ingredients;
- Lead-free solders can also be produced with bismuth, due to its low toxicity level.
Bismuth and Health
Supplemental bismuth typically contains bismuth salts in the form of bismuth subsalicylate, bismuth subcitrate, or bismuth subgallate. These supplements are commonly used in the prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal problems, such as travelers’ diarrhea, nausea, Helicobacter pylori, stomach ulcers, indigestion, etc. The role of bismuth in this type of supplement is to eliminate bacteria that cause the aforementioned health issues.
However, overuse of bismuth supplements may lead to adverse health effects that display a wide array of characteristic symptoms, which include:
- Darkening of the stool and the tongue;
- Skin rash;
- Ringing in the ears;
- Heart palpitations;
- Loss of appetite;
- Loss of weight;
- Liver damage;
- Ulcerative stomatitis;
Since excess bismuth can disrupt the function of many vital enzymes in our body, bismuth toxicity can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of excess accumulation of bismuth in bodily tissues may also be mistaken for lead poisoning.
In case of untimely treated bismuth toxicity, the damaged enzymes can lead to vitamin, mineral, essential fatty acids, and amino acid imbalances. This may further trigger more serious diseases.
Important: Please note that this elemental bismuth fact sheet is for educational and informative purposes only. This list is not complete and many other drugs may interact with bismuth, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, medication used in the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (such as Omeprazole), anticoagulant / antiplatelet drugs (including Aspirin, Diclofenac, Naprosyn, Heparin, etc.), proton pump inhibitor (PPI) drugs, vitamins, and herbal products. We strongly advise that you seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider or trained health professionals before treating any medical problems or adding bismuth supplements to your diet.
How Dangerous Is Bismuth?
Bismuth is considered one of the least toxic heavy metals regarding human health. Despite the low toxicity, prolonged exposure to bismuth metal and its salts can lead to kidney damage to a lesser degree.
This metallic substance can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed into the body through the skin. Just like any heavy metal, severe exposure to large amounts of bismuth can lead to fatal consequences, despite its low level of toxicity.
Environmental Effects of Bismuth
While bismuth compounds have very low solubility, this chemical element poses no threat to the environmental systems. A large number of bismuth compounds are considered as much less toxic than table salt (sodium chloride), which makes this heavy metal an environmentally friendly or “green” chemical.
However, since element 86 and its compounds are widely used in the manufacturing of pigments, cosmetics, alloys, and pharmaceuticals, the improperly deposited waste by the industries that employ bismuth in their production may contaminate the immediate environment.
Isotopes of Bismuth
There are 41 isotopes of bismuth, with atomic mass ranging from 184Bi to 224Bi. There are no stable isotopes of this chemical element. One exception is the bismuth-159 isotope, which has been considered as a stable form of this chemical element due to its half-life of 2.01×1019 years.
By undergoing an alpha, beta+ mode, or proton emission, some isotopes of bismuth undergo a decay process into Pb, Ti, Po isotopes. For commercial applications, bismuth-213 isotope can be produced by bombarding radium with bremsstrahlung photons from a linear particle accelerator.
|Z||N||Isotopic mass (Da)
[n 2][n 3]
[n 7][n 8]
|Natural abundance (mole fraction)|
|Excitation energy[n 8]||Normal proportion||Range of variation|
|187Bi||83||104||186.993158(16)||32(3) ms||α (50%)||183Tl||9/2−#|
|189Bi||83||106||188.98920(6)||674(11) ms||α (51%)||185Tl||(9/2−)|
|190Bi||83||107||189.9883(2)||6.3(1) s||α (77%)||186Tl||(3+)|
|191Bi||83||108||190.985786(8)||12.3(3) s||α (60%)||187Tl||(9/2−)|
|192Bi||83||109||191.98546(4)||34.6(9) s||β+ (82%)||192Pb||(3+)|
|193Bi||83||110||192.98296(1)||67(3) s||β+ (95%)||193Pb||(9/2−)|
|194Bi||83||111||193.98283(5)||95(3) s||β+ (99.54%)||194Pb||(3+)|
|195Bi||83||112||194.980651(6)||183(4) s||β+ (99.97%)||195Pb||(9/2−)|
|196Bi||83||113||195.980667(26)||5.1(2) min||β+ (99.99%)||196Pb||(3+)|
|197Bi||83||114||196.978864(9)||9.33(50) min||β+ (99.99%)||197Pb||(9/2−)|
|198Bi||83||115||197.97921(3)||10.3(3) min||β+||198Pb||(2+, 3+)|
|201Bi||83||118||200.977009(16)||108(3) min||β+ (99.99%)||201Pb||9/2−|
[n 9][n 10]
|210Bi||Radium E||83||127||209.9841204(16)||5.012(5) d||β−||210Po||1−||Trace[n 12]|
|211Bi||Actinium C||83||128||210.987269(6)||2.14(2) min||α (99.72%)||207Tl||9/2−||Trace[n 13]|
|212Bi||Thorium C||83||129||211.9912857(21)||60.55(6) min||β− (64.05%)||212Po||1(−)||Trace[n 14]|
|β−, α (.014%)||208Pb|
[n 15][n 16]
|83||130||212.994385(5)||45.59(6) min||β− (97.91%)||213Po||9/2−||Trace[n 17]|
|214Bi||Radium C||83||131||213.998712(12)||19.9(4) min||β− (99.97%)||214Po||1−||Trace[n 12]|
|β−, α (.003%)||210Pb|
|215Bi||83||132||215.001770(16)||7.6(2) min||β−||215Po||(9/2−)||Trace[n 13]|
|216Bi||83||133||216.006306(12)||2.17(5) min||β−||216Po||(6-, 7-)|
|218Bi||83||135||218.014188(29)||33(1) s||β−||218Po||(6-, 7-, 😎|
List of Bismuth Compounds
This crystalline metal forms compounds in +3 and +5 oxidation states, where the trivalent chemical combinations are the more common ones.
Chemically, bismuth behaves in a similar manner as the elements antimony and arsenic. Element 86 participates in the formation of halides, oxides, sulfides, and aqueous chemical solutions.
The following is a list of the most commonly prepared bismuth compounds:
- Aurivillius phases
- Bismuth antimonide
- Bismuth tribromide
- Bismuth bronze
- Bismuth chloride
- Bismuth ferrite
- Bismuth germanate
- Bismuth hydroxide
- Bismuth(III) iodide
- Bismuth(III) nitrate
- Bismuth(III) oxide
- Bismuth oxychloride
- Bismuth oxynitrate
- Bismuth pentafluoride
- Bismuth pentoxide
- Bismuth polycations
- Bismuth selenide
- Bismuth silicon oxide
- Bismuth strontium calcium copper oxide
- Bismuth subcarbonate
- Bismuth subcitrate
- Bismuth subgallate
- Bismuth subsalicylate
- Bismuth(III) sulfide
- Bismuth telluride
- Bismuth titanate
- Bismuth trifluoride
- Bismuth vanadate
- Bismuth(III) acetate
- Field’s metal
- Lead bismuthate
- Rose’s metal
- Sodium bismuth titanate
- Sodium bismuthate
5 Interesting Facts and Explanations
- Elemental bismuth can be traced in some foods, such as roots (ex. maca root, parsnip, beet), sea vegetables (ex. kombu, dulse, arame, nori, wakame, kelp seaweeds), or tubers (ex. kūmara, potatoes, yam, ulluco, taro, Jerusalem artichoke). However, the bismuth quantities consumed via any of the aforementioned food groups are too insignificant to be able to influence our health.
- The half-life of the bismuth-159 isotope is a billion times longer than the age of the Universe.
- Only molten bismuth and gallium expand their volume when exposed to freezing temperatures.
- Acrylonitrile is an intermediate product applied in the manufacture of acrylic fibers and various plastic products.
- Before researchers confirmed bismuth-109 as an unstable isotope, it was considered as the heaviest naturally occurring isotope. Namely, this isotope of bismuth decays into thallium-205 through alpha decay which confirms its unstable nature.