Tungsten is a natural element found in rocks and minerals in combination with other chemicals, but never as a pure metal. Elemental tungsten is a white to gray metal (depending on purity) that can be used in pure form or mixed with other metals to form alloys. Tungsten alloys tend to be strong and supple, resist wear, and conduct electricity well. Tungsten is used in products such as X-ray tubes, lamps, high-speed tools, welding electrodes, turbine blades, golf clubs, darts, gyros, phonograph needles, bullets and more. Tungsten is also used as a catalyst to accelerate chemical reactions. Tungsten chemicals have many applications (grinding and cutting wheels, tools, paints, fire retardants, etc.)
How does tungsten enter the environment?
- Tungsten is a naturally occurring element in the environment.
- Tungsten is an element that cannot be formed or destroyed.
- Tungsten in water mainly comes from rocks and soils that are washed away by running water.
- Tungsten in the air comes from the disintegration of rocks, from ore extraction or from emissions from the industries that process it.
- Tungsten particles in the air can build up on soil, water, or plant surfaces, or they can be swept away by rain and snow.
- Most of the ground tungsten does not reach groundwater.
How is one exposed to tungsten?
- One may be exposed to very low levels of tungsten by breathing air, eating food or drinking water containing tungsten. Air in cities generally contains more tungsten than air outside cities.
- In general, exposure to tungsten from air, drinking water and food is very low.
- The air normally contains less than 10 ng of tungsten per cubic meter.
- Occupational exposure to higher levels of tungsten can occur when there is use or treatment of tungsten metal.
- Tungsten and metal alloys are available in consumer products such as electronics, lamp threads, grinding wheels and other tools.
How Can Tungsten Affect Health?
Tungsten compounds in large doses cause respiratory problems and behavior change in animals. However, it is not likely to be exposed to such quantities of tungsten by air or food or water to produce similar effects.
Tungsten atom number 74 is the heaviest known element that is biologically functional, with the next heaviest being iodine (Z = 53). It is used by some bacteria, but not by eukaryotic cells. In these microbes, some enzymes called redoxes use tungsten in a similar way to Molybdenum in eukaryotic cells.
Tungsten can be considered as a metabolic antagonist of copper, in a role similar to molybdenum action.
In clinical practice, the use of DMPS is effective in mobilizing and excreting bismuth, mercury (organic and inorganic), copper, lead, arsenic, antimony, nickel, tin, tungsten and gold, but does not affect aluminum or uranium excretion. In the majority of adult patients, mercury is the predominant metal eliminated after using DMPS. DMPS-stimulated metals are mainly excreted by the kidneys and to a much lesser extent by the liver (bile/stool). Another chelating agent for the mobilization of metals by the body, DMSA, is used in challenge tests, as well as for detoxification from lead, mercury and other sulfhydryl reactive metals (e.g. arsenic, antimony). Several studies have shown the efficacy of DMSA in increasing renal excretion of lead and mercury and in lowering the blood levels of these metals.
How can one determine if one has been exposed to tungsten?
We can measure the levels of tungsten in blood and most biological materials.
Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, Inductively Coupled Argon Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!
Laboratory test results are the most important parameter for the diagnosis and monitoring of all pathological conditions. 70%-80% of diagnostic decisions are based on laboratory tests. Correct interpretation of laboratory results allows a doctor to distinguish "healthy" from "diseased".
Laboratory test results should not be interpreted from the numerical result of a single analysis. Test results should be interpreted in relation to each individual case and family history, clinical findings and the results of other laboratory tests and information. Your personal physician should explain the importance of your test results.
At Diagnostiki Athinon we answer any questions you may have about the test you perform in our laboratory and we contact your doctor to get the best possible medical care.