Tungsten

What is Tungsten?

Tungsten, also known as Wolfram, is a chemical element and a rare metal. It exists naturally in the environment and can not be formed or destroyed. The colour may range from white to grey according to purity (with white being most pure) and is commercially available in the form of powder or solid. The melting point of tungsten is the highest among metals and is capable of resisting corrosion. When in its powdered form, it is highly flammable and explosions can even occur on contact with air.

What is Tungsten used for?

Tungsten is used in the manufacturing of incandescent light globes

Tungsten is used in the manufacturing of incandescent light globes, circuit boards. It is also used in alloys such as steel, as it is excellent at adding strength. 

Cemented carbide is arguably the most important use for tungsten – it is used to manufacture cutting tools, such as blades and drill bits; which must be harder and stronger than the material they are cutting. 

Tungsten Hazards

Tungsten powder can become airborne and more prone to being a safety hazard
Airborne Tungsten can easily become a safety hazard

The main route of tungsten exposure is inhalation of tungsten dust during; mining from the ore, as well as the manufacturing and grinding of cemented carbide. Inhalation will cause irritation to the lungs and mucus membrane.

Skin exposure will lead to irritation, whilst eye exposure to tungsten will cause redness and watering in the eye.

Nausea can occur when a large amount of tungsten has been swallowed, but tungsten is not considered very toxic in small amounts. 

Tungsten Safety

If tungsten is inhaled, take them away from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. If they are having trouble breathing, loosen any collars, ties or belts to reduce pressure. Perform CPR if they are not breathing.

In the event of skin exposure; wash the affected area with plenty of soap and water. Contaminated clothing must be washed prior to wearing again. Consult a doctor if symptoms persist.

If exposure to the eyes occurs, remove contact lenses and flush the eyes with water for at least 15 minutes (do not forget under the eyelids). 

If tungsten is swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Loosen tight clothing such as a collar, tie or belt. Perform CPR if they are not breathing.

Tungsten Safety Handling

As tungsten is highly combustible and flammable, fire extinguishers should be made available in the vicinity of the chemical. 

Proper ventilation should be provided to ensure airborne levels of the dust are kept below recommended exposure limits. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including; splash goggles, aprons, dust respirators and gloves are recommended when handling tungsten.