Tungsten carbide is a hard metal and used in wear-resistant ceramics due to its exceptional hardness and stability, e.g. for the manufacturing of nozzles or tools. By adding metals like cobalt, iron or nickel to the tungsten carbide other hard metals are being generated with tungsten carbide-cobalt being one example.
How can I come into contact with this material?
Tungsten carbide is produced in form of powders which are then further processed to form ceramics. Handling of these powders e.g. at the work place can result in dust formation which in turn can be inhaled by the worker. Therefore protection measures are mandatory for workers handling these powder materials at the workplace which include the use of respiratory protection masks and the installation of suction exhaust pipes. Once the tungsten carbide nanoparticles are firmly bound within the final ceramic product there is little chance of direct contact with the material. Likewise no nanoparticles are being released during the daily handling of final products and thus no nanoparticles can enter the human body.
Is there any risk from this material to humans and the environment?
Tungsten carbide is one of the less hazardous substances and is classified as non-carcinogenic. Inhalation of tungsten carbide dust should be avoided, but until now, no major harmful effect to the lungs has been shown. In addition, the swallowing (oral uptake) of tungsten carbide is considered to be harmless. The release of tungsten carbide nanoparticles into the environment by production facilities is prevented by modern filtering facilities. All waste products are being collected and either recycled or disposed of as hazardous waste. A possible exposure scenario for the environment is an accidental release of tungsten carbide powder during its transport, but until now, no such incidents have been reported.
In our everyday life humans and environment are only exposed to very small amounts of tungsten carbide nanoparticles and there is no known danger associated with this material.
By the way…
- Tungsten carbide is not found in nature but is produced from tungsten ore using technical processes.
- Pure tungsten carbide nanoparticles are considered to be non-toxic and non-carcinogenic.