Tungsten in the Human Body

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tungsten "is a naturally occurring steel-gray to tin-white metal or fine powder that comes from more than 20 different tungsten-bearing minerals." Its atomic number is 74, and its atomic symbol is W. Normally used to toughen steel, the increase of industrial activity in the United States has heightened the chances of people being exposed to tungsten.

Means of Exposure
People can be exposed to tungsten by drinking water, eating food or breathing air that has been contaminated by tungsten. Although tungsten is naturally present in the environment in small amounts as minerals, industrial plants that manufacture tungsten can release large quantities of tungsten into the air.

Entering and Leaving the Body
Tungsten enters the body through eating, drinking, touching or breathing. Scientists are unsure about the metabolism of tungsten in the body, but it does enter the bloodstream and is spread to all parts of the body. Most of the tungsten is quickly processed in the digestive system, leaving your body either through urine or feces.

Health Effects
When exposed to high levels of tungsten, the immediate effects on the body can be irritation of the skin, eyes, throat or nose. Long-term effects can involve a myriad of lung problems, most likely coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Many of the long-term effects have been attributed to the use of cobalt in the tungsten-refining and compounding processes. It is important to understand that these side effects are the result of long-term heavy exposure to tungsten, not the minimal exposure to tungsten that most people experience.

Inconclusive Research
Currently, there is not enough scientific research to determine whether tungsten exposure leads to leukemia or other forms of cancer. The general rule of thumb is the more a person is exposed to tungsten, the higher the likelihood of that person experiencing some health effects

 

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