Periodic Table -> Potassium


Potassium Details

Potassium Symbol: K

Potassium Atomic Number: 19

Potassium Atomic Weight: 39.0983

What is Potassium?

Potassium (atomic number 19, symbol K) is a metal and an important element in our diet. It is silvery-white in color, waxy, and soft. Potassium is a very reactive metal and one of the least dense metals in the periodic table. It has a body-centered cubic crystal structure and 1 oxidation state. The element oxidizes and tarnishes quickly when exposed to air.

Potassium was first discovered in 1807 by Humphry Davy. It does not occur freely in nature and can be extracted from minerals such as polyhalite and sylvite. Potassium hydroxide, known as potash lye and caustic potash, is another source of potassium. Potash is mined in the United States (Utah and New Mexico), Germany, Israel, and other countries. Canada has large underground deposits of potash, found in the province of Saskatchewan.

Potassium is a very reactive element and produces hydrogen gas and potassium hydroxide when reacting with water. It is formed by mixing calcium hydroxide and potassium carbonate (K2CO3) and the solution brought to boil.

The element has 24 isotopes, but only potassium-39, potassium-40, and potassium 41 occur in nature. Potassium-40 decays to argon-40 and is used to date rocks. The element itself is used as a fertilizer in agriculture. Respiratory equipment is made using potassium superoxide while potassium chloride is used to make injections and medical drips. Potassium carbonate has application in the production of pigments, fluorescent lamps, and glass. Magnetometers are also made by using metallic potassium. They have application in oil and coal exploration and in archeology. The salts of potassium are used for leather tanning and in photography and baking.

Potassium hydroxide has application in the production of liquid detergents, drain cleaners, and soaps. It has other industrial applications and is used in the manufacture of biodiesel and for refining of natural gas and petroleum. Potassium chloride, which is made of chlorine and potassium, is used in the lethal injection for prisoners on the death row in the U.S. It also has application in food processing and medicine.

Potassium should be handled with extreme caution because of its reactive nature. Inhalation of mists or dust results in sore throat and nose, eye, and throat irritation. When ingested, it can cause hyperkalemia, which increases the risk for abnormal heart rhythm and cardiovascular problems. Potassium deficiency, on the other hand, leads to abdominal bloating, muscle weakness, dizziness, and heart palpitations. In extreme cases, hypokalemia can cause paralysis. In plants, potassium deficiency leads to low quality produce and low yields. High levels of potassium also affect plant growth by preventing the uptake of important minerals.

Potassium bromate, which comes in the form of white powder or crystals, is used to enhance dough strength. Potassium bisulfite is used to make alcoholic beverages and as a food preservative.

Potassium is important for human health. Some of its compounds are used in the food industry, including potassium bisulfite and potassium bromate. Foods that contain potassium include pistachios, raisins, fish such as tuna and salmon, and seeds. However, patients with kidney problems should limit the consumption of foods high in potassium because it can have life-threatening side effects. These include numbness, irregular palpitations and heartbeat and death in extreme cases. Patients who suffer from renal failure should also avoid potassium-rich foods because they can cause cardiac arrhythmia and heart problems.

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