Mineral Resource of the Month: Bromine

by U.S. Geological Survey
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Emily K. Schnebele, mineral commodity specialist for the U.S. Geological Survey, compiled the following information on bromine, which is primarily used in flame retardants, well drilling and water treatment.

The Phoenicians mixed secretions from Murex sea snails, which bind bromine atoms in seawater, with the plant dye indigo to form Tyrian purple, an expensive and highly prized dye that did not easily fade. The silk burial shroud of Charlemagne — the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who was buried in Germany in 814 and repeatedly exhumed and reburied — remains a vibrant purple today. Credit: French National Museum of the Middle Ages.

Bromine, along with mercury, is one of only two elements that are liquid at room temperature. Bromine is a highly volatile and corrosive reddish-brown liquid that evaporates easily and converts to a metal at extreme pressures — above about 540,000 times atmospheric pressure. Bromine occurs in seawater, evaporitic (salt) lakes and underground brines associated with petroleum deposits.

Brominated flame retardants are commonly added to many domestic and industrial appliances; plastic casings for electronic equipment, such as computers, mobile telephones and televisions; and other items, such as foam furniture padding, insulation boards, mattresses and textiles. About 90 percent of all electrical components contain brominated flame retardants. Solutions containing calcium bromide, sodium bromide or zinc bromide, collectively referred to as clear brine fluids, are used in drilling wells in the oil and gas industry to reduce damage to the wellbore and productive zone. Bromine is also used as a water purifier and disinfectant. Recently, bromine and bromine compounds have been found to be highly effective at removing mercury from flue-gas emissions at coal-fired electric power plants. Other applications for bromine include chemical and pharmaceutical intermediates, perfumes, dyes and photographic chemicals.

In the United States, bromine has been recovered from brine wells in Arkansas at a depth of about 2,400 meters with concentrations of 5,000 to 6,000 parts per million. As a comparison, seawater contains about 65 parts per million of bromine, resulting in an estimated 100 trillion tons residing in the world’s oceans. The high-salinity waters of the Dead Sea are estimated to contain more than 10,000 parts per million bromine. Two companies account for all U.S. production of bromine and for about 30 percent of world production capacity.

Future growth in bromine consumption likely will be driven by increased use of flame retardants in developing countries as they begin to introduce more stringent flammability standards and to use more plastic materials. However, in response to environmental and toxicological concerns regarding some bromine-based compounds, a few new alternative brominated fire safety products have been recently introduced.

For more information on bromine and other mineral resources, visit http://minerals.er.usgs.gov/minerals.


China, Israel, Jordan and the United States are the world’s leading bromine producers.

U.S. apparent consumption of bromine increased in 2014, as did imports of bromine and bromine compounds.

Roughly one-half of the bromine consumed worldwide is used to make flame retardants.


Bromine was discovered by Antoine J. Balard in 1826.""

Bromine, which has a bleach-like smell, was named for the Greek word “brômos,” meaning “stench.”

Bromine is an essential element for life and is required for tissue development.

Bromides were used in the second half of the 19th century as sedatives and for the treatment of epilepsy. Because of their high toxicity, they were eventually replaced by barbiturates.

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