Surprising new scientific research is raising concerns about the potential health and environmental hazards of tungsten – a metal used in products ranging from bullets to light bulbs to jewelry – that scientists once thought was environmentally-benign, according to a recent article in Chemical & Engineering News, a weekly newsmagazine from the American Chemical Society.
The article notes that scientists have long held that
tungsten is relatively insoluble in water and nontoxic. As a result, the U.S.
military developed in the mid 1990s so-called "green bullets" that
contain tungsten as a more environmentally friendly alternative to lead-based
ammunition. But studies now show that tungsten, which also is used in welding,
metal cutting and other applications, is not as chemically inert as previously
thought. Some forms of tungsten can move readily though soil and ground water under
certain environmental conditions. Both the U.S. Department of Defense and the
Environmental Protection Agency now classify the element as an "emerging
contaminant" of concern.
think that tungsten seems much less toxic than lead or mercury, they do not
know its exact health and environmental effects, the article notes. Scientists
have shown that exposure to tungsten can stunt the growth of plants, cause
reproductive problems in earthworms, and trigger premature death in certain aquatic
animals. But whether or not tungsten can cause chronic health effects in humans
awaits further study, the article suggests.
Surprising New Health and Environmental Concerns about Tungsten
January 22, 2009