Occupational Exposure to Rare Earth Elements

In recent years there has been increasing concern about the world’s and specifically the United States’ dependency on China for Rare Earth Metals (REE). Many products such as computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, and fluorescent lighting which contain REE are used by people all the time. With the increasing the use of electric vehicles, their demand  for batteries has been soaring. The military is also dependent on REE for use in  military precision-guided weapons, communications equipment, and other defense electronics. Many countries are looking for alternative sources REE and the United State government is spending billions of dollars to find and produce them domestically.
Rare earth metals are a group of elements that include cerium, dysprosium, erbium, europium, gadolinium, lanthanum, lutetium, neodymium, praseodymium, promethium, samarium, scandium, terbium, thulium, and yttrium and are found near the bottom of the periodic table. 
There is concern about the health effects of REE if they are ingested in large quantities. Research is continuing to determine what these effects are:

The risk of adverse effects from rare earth metal exposure is primarily associated with occupational or industrial settings where individuals may be exposed to high concentrations. As the production of REEs grows, there is a concern about the health effects to workers. Pulmonary fibrosis and pneumoconiosis were observed in workers chronically exposed to REEs. Skin irritation and respiratory toxicities have been reported. Various harmful substances have been emitted from REE mining and processing, and REE recycling can also cause health and environmental problems. Although most REEs are not currently re-used, the recycling industry is growing  and worker exposure will increase. 
Currently only yttrium and cerium in the workplace have OSHA or other occupational exposure limits. Ultimately, more research, whether governmental or private, is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of rare earth element ingestion on human health. It is essential to stay informed about developments in this field and rely on reputable sources for accurate information.

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