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Chem Res Toxicol. 1995 Jun;8(4):600-6.

Physicochemical mechanism of the interaction between cobalt metal and carbide particles to generate toxic activated oxygen species.

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Industrial Toxicology and Occupational Medicine Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.


Hard metal alloys (or cemented carbides) are made of a mixture of tungsten carbide particles (WC, more than 80%) cemented in cobalt metal powder (Co, 5-10%). The inhalation of hard metal particles may cause an interstitial pulmonary disease, the mechanism of which involves an interaction between Co and WC particles. Some epidemiological data also suggest that hard metal dust can induce lung cancer in workers. In a macrophage culture model, butylated hydroxytoluene (1 mM) protected from the cytotoxicity of hard metal particles, suggesting a possible involvement of lipid peroxidation in the toxicity of these powders. In a biochemical system, a mixture of Co and WC particles, but not Co or WC alone, stimulated the production of thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances from arachidonic acid. Using a spin trapping system applied to aqueous particulate suspensions and electrochemical techniques, we present experimental evidence that the association of Co and carbide particles represents a specific toxic entity producing large amounts of activated oxygen species. The mechanism of this interaction proceeds through the oxidation of cobalt metal catalyzed at the surface of carbide particles and resulting in the reduction of dissolved oxygen. This physicochemical property of hard metal particles provides a new basis for interpreting their inflammatory action and their possible carcinogenic effect on the lung.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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