TIGERS, GIANT PANDAS, POLAR bears—you’ve heard of endan- gered animals. But did you know that elements on the Periodic Table can be endangered, too?
Although these elements are not in danger
of going extinct—chemical elements are
essentially indestructible, and atoms generally last forever—the useful supplies of
some 62 elements are running out. Also,
one day, these elements may be so inaccessible that it might not make sense to harvest
The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements is exactly like the normal Periodic
Table, except that the squares representing certain elements are color-coded yellow, orange, or red (Fig. 1). These colored
squares are the 62 endangered elements.
Just like animals, there are different levels
of risk for the endangered elements. The
color of an element on the Periodic Table of
Endangered Elements indicates how high the
element is at risk of running out.
Ten elements are at serious risk of
running out in the next 100 years. These
elements—helium, zinc, gallium, indium,
tellurium, hafnium, europium, terbium,
dysprosium, and ytterbium—are shaded
red in Fig. 1. The threat of running out of
13 other elements has increased recently,
because these elements are being used
more and more. These elements are red and
yellow in Fig. 1. Also, 39 other elements are
predicted to be at risk in the future—these
elements are shaded orange in Fig. 1.
Endangered elements at every level of risk
have unique properties. We depend on these
elements and their unique properties because
we use products that contain them every day.
If we run out of the reserves of endangered
elements, we might not be able to make the
products that contain them, including the
smartphone in your pocket.
Figure 1. This version of the Periodic Table of Endangered Elements, developed by Mike Pitts, a
sustainability manager with the Chemistry Innovation Transfer Network, separates the endangered
elements into three categories, color-coded red, orange, and yellow.
16 ChemMatters | FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017 www.acs.org/chemmatters
By Chris Patrick