Vanadium is a compound that occurs in nature as a white-to-gray metal, and is often found as crystals. Pure vanadium has no smell. It usually combines with other elements such as oxygen, sodium, sulfur, or chloride. Vanadium and vanadium compounds can be found in the earth's crust and in rocks, some iron ores, and crude petroleum deposits.

Vanadium is mostly combined with other metals to make special metal mixtures called alloys. Vanadium in the form of vanadium oxide is a component in special kinds of steel that is used for automobile parts, springs, and ball bearings. Most of the vanadium used in the United States is used to make steel. Vanadium oxide is a yellow-orange powder, dark-gray flakes, or yellow crystals. Vanadium is also mixed with iron to make important parts for aircraft engines.

Small amounts of vanadium are used in making rubber, plastics, ceramics, and other chemicals.

Fate & Transport

Vanadium mainly enters the environment from natural sources and from the burning of fuel oils.

It stays in the air, water, and soil for a long time.

It does not dissolve well in water.

It combines with other elements and particles.

It sticks to soil sediments.

Low levels have been found in plants, but it is not likely to build up in the tissues of animals.

Exposure Pathways

Exposure to very low levels in air, water, and food

Eating higher levels of it in certain foods

Breathing air near an industry that burns fuel oil or coal; these industries release vanadium oxide into the air

Working in industries that process it or make products containing it

Breathing contaminated air or drinking contaminated water near waste sites or landfills containing vanadium

Vanadium is not readily absorbed by the body from the stomach, gut, or contact with the skin.

Health Effects

Exposure to high levels of vanadium can cause harmful health effects. The major effects from breathing high levels of vanadium are on the lungs, throat, and eyes. Workers who breathed it for short and long periods sometimes had lung irritation, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, runny nose, and a sore throat. These effects stopped soon after they stopped breathing the contaminated air. Similar effects have been observed in animal studies. No other significant health effects of vanadium have been found in people.

We do not know the health effects in people of ingesting vanadium. Animals that ingested very large doses have died. Lower, but still high levels of vanadium in the water of pregnant animals resulted in minor birth defects. Some animals that breathed or ingested vanadium over a long term had minor kidney and liver changes. The amounts of vanadium given in these animal studies that resulted in harmful effects are much higher than those likely to occur in the environment.

The Department of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have not classified vanadium as to its human carcinogenicity. No human studies are available on the carcinogenicity of vanadium. No increase in tumors was noted in a long-term animal study where the animals were exposed to vanadium in the drinking water.

Information excerpted from:

Toxicological Profile for Vanadium 1992

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services