Depleted and enriched uranium exposure quantified in former factory workers and local residents of NL Industries, Colonie, NY USA.
Environ Res. 2016 Oct ;150:629-38. Epub 2016 May 12. PMID: 27179584
John G Arnason
BACKGROUND: Between 1958 and 1982, NL Industries manufactured components of enriched (EU) and depleted uranium (DU) at a factory in Colonie NY, USA. More than 5 metric tons of DU was deposited as microscopic DU oxide particles on the plant site and surrounding residential community. A prior study involving a small number of individuals (n=23) indicated some residents were exposed to DU and former workers to both DU and EU, most probably through inhalation of aerosol particles.
OBJECTIVES: Our aim was to measure total uranium [U] and the uranium isotope ratios: (234)U/(238)U; (235)U/(238)U; and (236)U/(238)U, in the urine of a cohort of former workers and nearby residents of the NLI factory, to characterize individual exposure to natural uranium (NU), DU, and EU more than 3 decades after production ceased.
METHODS: We conducted a biomonitoring study in a larger cohort of 32 former workers and 99 residents, who may have been exposed during its period of operation, by measuring Total U, NU, DU, and EU in urine using Sector Field Inductively Coupled Plasma - Mass Spectrometry (SF-ICP-MS).
RESULTS: Among workers, 84% were exposed to DU, 9% to EU and DU, and 6% to natural uranium (NU) only. For those exposed to DU, urinary isotopic and [U] compositions result from binary mixing of NU and the DU plant feedstock. Among residents, 8% show evidence of DU exposure, whereas none shows evidence of EU exposure. For residents, the [U] geometric mean is significantly below the value reported for NHANES. There is no significant difference in [U] between exposed and unexposed residents, suggesting that [U] alone is not a reliable indicator of exposure to DU in this group.
CONCLUSIONS: Ninety four percent of workers tested showed evidence of exposure to DU, EU or both, and were still excreting DU and EU decades after leaving the workforce. The study demonstrates the advantage of measuring multiple isotopic ratios (e.g., (236)U/(238)U and (235)U/(238)U) over a single ratio ((235)U/(238)U) in determining sources of uranium exposure.