Exposure to tungsten carbide-cobalt (WC-Co) nanoparticles mainly occurs occupationally and hence, there are only few investigations regarding effects on environmental organisms.


An accumulation of tungsten and cobalt in lichen and trees was observed, but there is no information on possible biological effects available from this study [1]. Nevertheless, this illustrates a particle uptake by these organisms via air or water.


Investigations using rainbow trout gill cell cultures indicated an enhanced toxicity of WC-Co compared to WC alone [2]. Similar results have been previously shown in studies using human cells. The enhanced toxicity is likely to be caused by the cobalt fraction. Cobalt metal is a well-known toxicant and an additional increase in toxicity is due to the chemical interactions resulting from the mixing with WC. Cobalt alone is classified as hazardous for the environment and for aquatic organisms [3]. Hence, there are strict regulations for the handling and application of cobalt to keep its bioavailability limited, e.g. discharge via the waste water is forbidden. These regulations also apply for WC-Co.


An uptake of WC-Co nanoparticles into cells, but not in the nuclei of cells was demonstrated. Laboratory studies on the behaviour of particles in liquids indicated an agglomeration of nanoparticles into bigger assemblies, which may also occur in surface waters. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that WC-Co toxicity is not prevented by agglomeration. Even though particle agglomerates are bigger then single particles they were taken up by the cells.


To date, there are no data available on the effects of WC nanoparticles towards additional test organisms, such as algae or bacteria.




Literatur arrow down

  1. Sheppard, PR et al. (2007), Environ Health Perspect, 115(5): 715-719.
  2. Kuehnel, D et al. (2009), Aquat Toxicol, 93(2-3): 91-99.
  3. ATSDR TOX FAQs (Apr 2004): Cobalt. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Public Health Service (ATSDR).


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