Dose-response relationships for blood cobalt concentrations and health effects: a review of the literature and application of a biokinetic model

J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2012;15(8):493-523. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2012.744287.


Cobalt (Co) is an essential component of vitamin B(12). As with all metals, at sufficiently high doses, Co may exert detrimental effects on different organ systems, and adverse responses have been observed in animals, patients undergoing Co therapy, and workers exposed to respirable Co particulates. Although blood Co concentrations are postulated to be the most accurate indicator of ongoing Co exposure, little is known regarding the dose-response relationships between blood Co concentrations and adverse health effects in various organ systems. In this analysis, the animal toxicology and epidemiology literature were evaluated to identify blood Co concentrations at which effects have, and have not, been reported. Where necessary, a biokinetic model was used to convert oral doses to blood Co concentrations. Our results indicated that blood Co concentrations of 300 μg/L and less have not been associated with adverse responses of any type in humans. Concentrations of 300 μg/L and higher were associated with certain hematological and reversible endocrine responses, including polycythemia and reduced iodide uptake. Blood Co concentrations of 700-800 μg Co/L and higher may pose a risk of more serious neurological, reproductive, or cardiac effects. These blood concentrations should be useful to clinicians and toxicologists who are attempting to interpret blood Co concentrations in exposed individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cobalt / blood*
  • Cobalt / toxicity*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Endpoint Determination
  • Heart / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nervous System / drug effects
  • No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level
  • Polycythemia / chemically induced
  • Reproduction / drug effects


  • Cobalt