Environmental uranium and human health

Rev Environ Health. 1997 Jul-Sep;12(3):147-57. doi: 10.1515/reveh.1997.12.3.147.


Uranium from the environment enters the human body by ingestion with food and drink and by inhalation of respirable airborne uranium-containing dust particles or aerosols. Daily intake of uranium in food and water varies from approximately 1 to approximately 5 micrograms U/d daily in uncontaminated regions to 13-18 micrograms/d or more in uranium mining areas. A 70 kg, non-occupationally exposed 'Reference Man' living in Europe or in the United States has an estimated total body uranium content of about 22 micrograms. Uranium is absorbed from the intestine or the lungs, enters the bloodstream, and is rapidly deposited in the tissues, predominantly kidney and bone, or excreted in the urine. In the bloodstream, uranium is associated with red cells, and its clearance is relatively rapid. Renal toxicity is a major adverse effect of uranium, but the metal has toxic effects on the cardiovascular system, liver, muscle, and nervous system as well. Any possible direct risk of cancer or other chemical- or radiation-induced health detriments from uranium deposited in the human body is probably less than 0.005% in contrast to an expected indirect risk of 0.2% to 3% through inhaling the radioactive inert gas radon, which is produced by the decay of environmental uranium-238 in rocks and soil and is present in materials that are used to build dwellings and buildings where people live and work.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Radioactive / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination, Radioactive
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Uranium / adverse effects*
  • Uranium / pharmacokinetics


  • Uranium