Occupational exposure to rare earth elements: Assessment of external and internal exposure


Our study investigated occupational exposure to rare earth elements (REEs) in a major REE processing plant from North China by assessing both external exposure and internal exposure in the workers. An exposure group, including 50 workers in the processing plant, and a control group, including 50 workers from a liquor factory located 150 km away from the exposure group, were recruited in the study. Portable air sampler was employed to accurately measure individual exposure to the external environment, and the data demonstrating significantly higher contamination in the REE processing plant compared with the control group (i.e., 87.5 versus 0.49 μg/m3 of ΣREEs). Blood concentrations were also significantly higher in the exposure group (3.47 versus 2.24 μg/L of ΣREEs). However, the compositional profiles of REEs resembled between the exposure and control group in blood or air particles, indicating the influence of mining/processing activities on the surrounding regions. External exposure in the occupational environment appeared to significantly influence internal REE exposure in the REE processing workers. Some other sociodemographic and occupational factors, including the residence time and the type of work, could also influence occupational exposure to selected REEs. Our data clearly demonstrated the highly elevated REE contamination in both working environment and human bodies compared with the control subjects, raising the critical need for better assessing the health risks from occupational REE exposure and efficient management for occupational hazards.

Authors: Xinhang Qiao, Wenxuan Cui, Sheng Gao, Qiang Zhi, Bin Li, Yaochun Fan, Li Liu, Jianqiong Gao, Hongli Tan
; Full Source: Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987) 2022 Jul 18;119801. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2022.119801.