Zirconium is used extensively as a refractory material in furnaces and crucibles, in ceramic glazes, and, formerly, in gas mantles. It occurs in nature as the silicate (ZrSiO4) and is used as a gemstone; it may be clear or colored, and is usually called zircon or hyacinth. Zirconium compounds also have minor uses as catalysts, in the dye, textile, plastics, and paint industries, and in pharmaceuticals such as poison ivy lotions. The metal also has many other uses, among them in photographic flashbulbs, brake pads and surgical instruments, in the removal of residual gases from electronic vacuum tubes, and as a hardening agent in alloys, especially steel. A major use of the metal is in nuclear reactors. The toxic effects of inhalation exposures to zirconium compounds include the formation of granulomas, both in the lungs and on the skin.
Potential Health Effects
- Primary routes of exposure: Inhalation, contact to eyes and skin.
- Target Organs: Eyes, skin and respiratory system.
- Eye: Redness, burning, tearing or swelling. Irritation will occur.
- Skin Contact: Prolonged/repeated contact with skin may cause redness, irritation, burning, drying or cracking.
- Ingestion: May cause irritation or injury to membranes of the mouth, throat and gastrointestinal tract. Vomiting and cramps may occur.
- Inhalation: Anesthetic. Irritation to respiratory tract or acute nervous system depression characterized by headache, dizziness, staggering gait, confusion, unconsciousness or death.
- Acute Effects: See section above for eye contact, skin contact, ingestion and inhalation.
- Chronic Effects: Excessive inhalation of dust above TLV of dried material over long periods of time may cause industrial bronchitis, reduced breathing capacity and lead to increased susceptibility to lung disease.
- Carcinogenicity: Not carcinogenic