Exposure pathways and health effects associated with chemical and radiological toxicity of natural uranium: a review

Rev Environ Health. Jul-Sep 2005;20(3):177-93. doi: 10.1515/reveh.2005.20.3.177.


Natural uranium exposure derives from the mining, milling, and processing of uranium ore, as well as from ingestion of groundwater that is naturally contaminated with uranium. Ingestion and inhalation are the primary routes of entry into the body. Absorption of uranium from the lungs or digestive track is typically low but can vary depending on compound specific solubility. From the blood, two-thirds of the uranium is excreted in urine over the first 24 hours and up to 80% to 90% of uranium deposited in the bone leaves the body within 1.5 years. The primary health outcomes of concern documented with respect to uranium are renal, developmental, reproductive, diminished bone growth, and DNA damage. The reported health effects derive from experimental animal studies and human epidemiology. The Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level (LOAEL) derived from animal studies is 50 microg/m3 for inhalation and 60 ug/kg body weight/day for ingestion. The current respiratory standard of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 50 microg/m3, affords no margin of safety. Considering the safety factors for species and individual variation, the ingestion LOAEL corresponds to the daily consumption set by the World Health Organization Drinking Water Standard at 2 microg/L. Based on economic considerations, the United States Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level is 30 microg/L. Further research is needed, with particular attention on the impact of uranium on indigenous populations, on routes of exposure in communities near uranium sites, on the combined exposures present at many uranium sites, on human developmental defects, and on health effects at or below established exposure standards.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Body Burden
  • DNA Damage
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Half-Life
  • Mining
  • No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level
  • Occupational Health
  • Public Health*
  • Reference Values
  • Safety
  • United States
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Uranium / analysis
  • Uranium / pharmacokinetics*
  • Uranium / poisoning*
  • World Health Organization


  • Uranium