Safe Cobalt

Cobalt is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust at around 20-30 parts per million (mg/Kg, average 25 mg/Kg). Cobalt substances are naturally and ubiquitously present in the air, soil, sediments and water.

Cobalt is essential to human health as a part of vitamin B12, something humans and animals need access to in order to stay healthy. Cobalt is added to animal feed to keep livestock healthy. However, in excess it can also be bad for you. We know inhaling large amounts can increase a person’s risk of cancer.

As with many substances, an excessive amount can be bad for you. The vast majority of people are highly unlikely to naturally encounter cobalt in large enough amounts for it to be dangerous,  but people working in manufacturing facilities where cobalt is used could be at risk without proper mitigation measures.

The cobalt industry recognises the need to manage workplace exposures to cobalt and has played a leading role in generating the scientific data required to understand and manage the risks associated with cobalt inhalation.

Cobalt in food

Cobalt is an essential metal, needed for the health of ruminant animals such as cows and sheep. It is also needed by various environmental bacteria and other microscopic life forms that play an important role in biodiversity.

The greatest exposure to cobalt for the general population is through food in their diet. Cobalt is essential to human life as part of Vitamin B12.

Cobalt in water

The concentration of cobalt found in natural waters includes freshwater systems such as lakes, streams and rivers and salt water or marine systems including estuaries and oceans.

As cobalt is naturally occurring and a widely dispersed element, all natural waters contain background concentrations of this element, which are the naturally occurring concentrations present in waters due to geological influence rather than from the influence of man.

Cobalt in the atmosphere
Cobalt is released into the air both from natural processes and from man’s activities. As a non-volatile material, cobalt is rarely found in the atmosphere alone, but is more generally attached to particles in the air generated by man-made pollution, while a fraction of cobalt is found in natural dust originating from weathering of rocks and soils, volcanic eruptions, forest fires and seawater spray.
Cobalt in soil
Cobalt in soils throughout the world results from a combination of natural and man’s activities. Cobalt soil concentrations depend on a number of factors, including local  geology, atmospheric deposition of cobalt-containing dust, land use and associated amendments, mineral particle distribution, soil age, and climatic and transport factors. It should be noted that the majority of cobalt in soil is not in a form that is available for uptake by plants or animals, due to the formation of carbonate and hydroxide minerals.