Outlining Potential Health Effects of Exposure to Critical Elements: From Chemical Structure to Adverse Outcome Pathways

Science Center Objects

The Federal Government was charged with ensuring a reliable supply of critical minerals from within the U.S., and to further this policy in a safe and environmentally responsible manner by identifying new sources of critical elements. The objective of this research is to delineate anticipated adverse outcome pathways for the critical elements.

calcium sulfate in acetone

A microscopic image of crystals of calcium sulfate in acetone (4x magnification) from an image gallery at Biotek. Processes which concentrate metals may result in a phase change which may be deleterious upon exposure by such means as inhalation or skin contact. (Image courtesy of BioTek. Limited use by USGS only.)

The Science Issue and Relevance:  The accelerating pace of technological innovation, population growth, and economic development are driving the demand for natural resources. This is increasing the need for non-fuel mineral commodities that are used in emerging and low-carbon technologies (Table 1). Examples of mineral applications include renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles, military applications, wood preservatives, pesticides, and batteries. Going forward, it is expected that mineral commodities will be required in greater and more sustainable quantities to fulfill the needs of an affluent and growing global population. Executive Order 13817 in December 2017 defined the reliance of the U.S. on foreign supplies as a strategic vulnerability. Accordingly, the Federal Government was charged with ensuring a reliable supply of critical minerals from within the U.S., and to further this policy in a safe and environmentally responsible manner by identifying new sources of critical elements. Humans and wildlife receptors could be exposed to chemicals and other contaminants as a result of mineral resource activities, including transportation, storage, element recovery, extraction, and waste management. However, the potential exposure risk is not clearly delineated for critical elements.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: Because geochemical behaviors of elements may be inferred by their position in the periodic table in addition to their geographic location in substrate, the objective of this research is to delineate anticipated adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) for the critical elements. Potential wildlife receptors, co-occurring elements, environmental and health benchmarks, predominant exposure sources, and consequent AOPs for wildlife and human receptors will be delineated. Moreover, potential quantifiable biomarkers will be suggested per element.

List of critical elements for Outlining Potential Health Effects of Exposure to Critical Elements project

 

Future Steps: This information will be useful for resource managers and human health resource managers.