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A balanced formula of aluminium oxide is used in various industrial and chemical applications. It is also found naturally in minerals.
Aluminium oxide is a white, chemically inert material. It has low specific heat and low heat retention. This makes it an ideal adsorbent for plastics and a catalyst support for a variety of useful industrial reactions.
Aluminum oxide is a relatively inexpensive substitute for industrial diamond. It is used in many products such as plastics, dental cements, and sunscreen.
As an adsorbent, aluminium oxide serves a number of purposes, including in the Claus process, where it is used to make a refractory material. It is also used as an insulator in high-temperature furnaces.
When absorbed into the lung, aluminum oxide may produce a number of central nervous system effects. These include a possible increase in neutrophils and fibronectin. In addition, it may cause exothermic polymerization of ethylene oxide.
Chronic exposure to aluminum oxide dust has been found to cause a small percentage of the inhaled alumina to remain in the lungs. However, the long-term sequestration of this alumina is unclear.
The most serious health hazard associated with primary aluminum production is the use of fluoride. Although there is no evidence that aluminum oxide is a contributing factor to silicosis, there are reports of adverse effects following prolonged exposure to nuisance dust.
For more information on the toxicity of aluminum oxide, see the American Conference Government Industrial Hygienists document. They have also documented the TLVs for aluminum oxide.