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J Forensic Sci. 1997 May;42(3):527-30.

Tungsten determination in biological fluids, hair and nails by plasma emission spectrometry in a case of severe acute intoxication in man.

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  • 1Intensive Care Unit, University Hospital Limoges, France.


A healthy 19-year-old recruit in a French artillery regiment drank 250 mL of a mixture of beer and wine that had rinsed in a hot 155-mm gun-barrel. Fifteen minutes later, he complained of nausea followed by seizures. He was comatose for 24 h, presenting signs of encephalopathy. A moderate renal failure was noted initially and worsened to an extensive tubular necrosis with anuria on the day after the incident. The first toxicological investigations only showed a 0.31 g/L blood ethanol. Then inductively-coupled plasma (ICP) emission-spectrometry revealed very high concentrations of tungsten in the "beverage" as well as in gastric content, blood and urine (1540 mg/L, 8 mg/L, 5 mg/L, and 101 mg/L, respectively). The nature of the metal was confirmed by ICP coupled to mass spectrometry. A simple and reliable ICP quantitative assay of tungsten in biological fluids, hair and nails was then developed. It showed high blood levels (> 0.005 mg/L) until day 13 in spite of six hemodialyses, and in urine until D33. Tungsten was also incorporated in hair and nails. To the best of our knowledge, such an intoxication has never been reported before though this drinking seems to be traditional in the French Artillery. It has probably been favored by the unusually high volume of beverage absorbed and by the new alloy of the gun, containing tungsten. The clinical evolution was satisfactory over weeks and the patient was declared totally cured after five months.

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