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ToxFAQsTM for Vanadium
This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions (FAQs) about vanadium. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-800-232-4636. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. It is important you understand this information because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.
Everyone is exposed to low levels of vanadium in air, water, and food; however, most people are exposed mainly from food. Breathing high levels of vanadium pentoxide may cause lung damage. Ingesting vanadium can cause nausea and vomiting. In animals, ingesting vanadium can cause decreased red blood cells and increased blood pressure. Vanadium has been found in at least 319 of 1,699 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is vanadium?
Vanadium is an element that occurs in nature as a white-to-gray metal compounds, and is often found as crystals. Pure vanadium has no smell. It usually combines with other elements such as oxygen, sodium, sulfur, or chloride. Vanadium and vanadium compounds can be found in the earth's crust and in rocks, some iron ores, and crude petroleum deposits.
Vanadium is used in producing rust-resistant, spring, and high-speed tool steels.
Vanadium pentoxide is used in ceramics, as a catalyst, and in the production of superconductive magnets.
Vanadyl sulfate and sodium metavanadate have been used as dietary supplements.
What happens to vanadium when it enters the environment?
- Vanadium mainly enters the environment from natural sources and from the burning of fuel oils.
- It does not dissolve well in water.
- It combines with other elements and particles.
- Vanadium binds strongly to soil and sediments.
- Low levels have been found in plants, but it is not likely to build up in the tissues of animals.
How might I be exposed to vanadium?
- Eating foods containing vanadium, higher levels are found in seafoods. Vanadium is found in some nutritional supplements.
- Breathing air near an industry that burns fuel oil or coal; these industries release vanadium oxide into the air.
- Working in industries that process vanadium or make products containing vanadium.
- Breathing contaminated air or drinking contaminated water near waste sites or landfills containing vanadium.
- Breathing cigarette smoke.
- Vanadium is not readily absorbed by the body from the stomach, gut, or contact with the skin.
How can vanadium affect my health?
Exposure to high levels of vanadium pentoxide in air can result in lung damage.
Nausea, mild diarrhea, and stomach cramps have been reported in people some vanadium compounds. A number of effects have been found in animals ingesting vanadium compounds including decreases in the number of red blood cells, increased blood pressure, and mild neurological effects. The amounts of vanadium given in these animal studies that resulted in harmful effects are much higher than those likely to occur in the environment.
How likely is vanadium to cause cancer?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified vanadium pentoxide as possibly carcinogenic to humans based on evidence of lung cancer in exposed mice.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and EPA have not classified vanadium as to its human carcinogenicity.
How can vanadium affect children?
The health effects in children are expected to be similar to the effects seen in adults.
Studies in animals exposed during pregnancy have shown that vanadium can cause decreases in growth and increases in the occurrence of birth defects. These effects are usually observed at levels which cause effects in the mother. Effects have also been observed at vanadium doses which did not cause effects in the mother.
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to vanadium?
- Vanadium is present in some supplements. Consult with your doctor before taking supplements containing vanadium to determine if they are appropriate for you. Supplements should be kept out of reach of children.
- Vanadium is a component of tobacco smoke. Avoid smoking in enclosed spaces like inside the home or car in order to limit exposure to children and other family members.
Is there a medical test to determine whether I've been exposed to vanadium?
Vanadium can be measured in blood and urine. These tests cannot determine if harmful health effects will occur from the exposure to vanadium.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a legal limit of 0.5 milligrams per cubic meter (0.5 mg/m3) for vanadium pentoxide dust as a ceiling limit not to be exceeded during the workday. A ceiling limit of 0.1 mg/m3 for vanadium pentoxide fumes has also been established.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2012. Toxicological Profile for Vanadium. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-57
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO · 888-232-6348 (TTY)
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.
Information line and technical assistance:
To order toxicological profiles, contact:
National Technical Information Service
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
Phone: 800-553-6847 or 703-605-6000
Some PDF files may be electronic conversions from paper copy or other electronic ASCII text files. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors. Users are referred to the original paper copy of the toxicological profile for the official text, figures, and tables. Original paper copies can be obtained via the directions on the toxicological profile home page, which also contains other important information about the profiles.
The information contained here was correct at the time of publication. Please check with the appropriate agency for any changes to the regulations or guidelines cited.
- Page last reviewed: February 4, 2014
- Page last updated: March 18, 2014
- Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry