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Characterization of exposures among cemented tungsten carbide workers. Part I: size-fractionated exposures to airborne cobalt and tungsten particles.

Stefaniak AB; Virji MA; Day GA
J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 2009 Jul; 19(5):475-491
As many as 30,000 workers in the United States of America are exposed to cemented tungsten carbides (CTC), alloys composed primarily of tungsten carbide and cobalt, which are used in cutting tools. Inhalation of cobalt-containing particles may be sufficient for the development of occupational asthma, whereas tungsten carbide particles in association with cobalt particles are associated with the development of hard metal disease (HMD) and lung cancer. Historical epidemiology and exposure studies of CTC workers often rely only on measures of total airborne cobalt mass concentration. In this study, we characterized cobalt- and tungsten-containing aerosols generated during the production of CTC with emphasis on (1) aerosol "total" mass (n=252 closed-face 37 mm cassette samples) and particle size-selective mass concentrations (n=108 eight-stage cascade impactor samples); (2) particle size distributions; and (3) comparison of exposures obtained using personal cassette and impactor samplers. Total cobalt and tungsten exposures were highest in work areas that handled powders (e.g., powder mixing) and lowest in areas that handled finished product (e.g., grinding). Inhalable, thoracic, and respirable cobalt and tungsten exposures were observed in all work areas, indicating potential for co-exposures to particles capable of getting deposited in the upper airways and alveolar region of the lung. Understanding the risk of CTC-induced adverse health effects may require two exposure regimes: one for asthma and the other for HMD and lung cancer. All sizes of cobalt-containing particles that deposit in the lung and airways have potential to cause asthma, thus a thoracic exposure metric is likely biologically appropriate. Cobalt-tungsten mixtures that deposit in the alveolar region of the lung may potentially cause HMD and lung cancer, thus a respirable exposure metric for both metals is likely biologically appropriate. By characterizing size-selective and co-exposures as well as multiple exposure pathways, this series of papers offer an approach for developing biologically meaningful exposure metrics for use in epidemiology.
Allergens; Exposure-assessment; Carbides; Chromium-compounds; Cobalt-alloys; Cobalt-compounds; Nickel-compounds; Tungsten-compounds; Skin-sensitivity; Metal-compounds; Metal-dusts; Metal-workers; Skin-absorption; Tools; Author Keywords: aerosols; size-selective sampling; asthma; lung disease; lung cancer; exposure assessment
Dr. Aleksandr B. Stefaniak, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, Mailstop H-2702, 1095 Willowdale Road, Morgantown, WV 26505-2888
7440-43-9; 7440-47-3; 7440-48-4; 7440-02-0; 7440-33-7; 7440-25-7; 7440-32-6
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Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology
Page last reviewed: August 26, 2022
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division