Tungsten’s path to groundwater revealed by new study

Sept. 30, 2013

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Geologists found that tungsten leaches into aquifers based on the amount of oxygen and the pH level in the groundwater.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A new geological study has unearthed more information on how tungsten metal leaches into aquifers from surrounding sediment, according to a press release.

Researchers from Kansas State University, Lavonia, Ga., Tulane University and the University of Texas, Arlington found that the groundwater’s pH level and the amount of oxygen and oxidized particles in the water and sediment affect the likelihood that tungsten, a naturally occurring metal used for incandescent light bulb filaments, drill bits and an alternative to lead in bullets, will enter the groundwater, according to the release.

Tungsten is considered nonhazardous to the environment and nontoxic to humans, the release reported, however, it can be poisonous if ingested in large amounts and has been tentatively linked to cases of childhood leukemia in the Western U.S.

“Very little is known about the biogeochemistry of tungsten in the environment,” said Saugata Datta, professor of geology at Kansas State University.

The study, titled “Controls on tungsten concentrations in groundwater flow systems: The role of adsorption, aquifer sediment FE (III) oxide/oxyhydroxide content and thiotungstate formation,” was published in the journal Chemical Geology, according to the release, and is part of a three-year, $515,000 National Science Foundation-funded project titled “Collaborative Research: Chemical Hydrogeologic Investigations of Tungsten: Field, Laboratory and Modeling Studies of an Emerging Environmental Contaminant.”

Please visit the Kansas State University website to read the full release.