Tungsten-alloy shrapnel might cause cancer

7:00pm, March 15, 2005

An alloy containing tungsten, cobalt, and nickel turns wounds cancerous within a few months, a test in rats shows. The finding raises questions about the current military practice by many countries of using this alloy in bullets and other ammunition as a replacement for uranium and lead.

Biochemist John F. Kalinich of the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, Md., and his colleagues surgically embedded pellets of the alloy, which is 91 percent tungsten, into the animals' leg muscles. Separate groups of rats received pellets made predominantly of nickel or tantalum, a heavy metal.

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