Environmental and health hazards of military metal pollution

Anatoly V. Skalny, Michael Aschner, Igor P. Bobrovnitsky, Pan Chen, Aristidis Tsatsakis, Monica M.B. Paoliello, Aleksandra Buha Djordevic, Alexey A. Tinkov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


An increasing body of literature has demonstrated that armed conflicts and military activity may contribute to environmental pollution with metals, although the existing data are inconsistent. Therefore, in this paper, we discuss potential sources of military-related metal emissions, environmental metal contamination, as well as routes of metal exposure and their health hazards in relation to military activities. Emission of metals into the environment upon military activity occurs from weapon residues containing high levels of particles containing lead (Pb; leaded ammunition), copper (Cu; unleaded), and depleted uranium (DU). As a consequence, military activity results in soil contamination with Pb and Cu, as well as other metals including Cd, Sb, Cr, Ni, Zn, with subsequent metal translocation to water, thus increasing the risk of human exposure. Biomonitoring studies have demonstrated increased accumulation of metals in plants, invertebrates, and vertebrate species (fish, birds, mammals). Correspondingly, military activity is associated with human metal exposure that results from inhalation or ingestion of released particles, as well as injuries with subsequent metal release from embedded fragments. It is also notable that local metal accumulation following military injury may occur even without detectable fragments. Nonetheless, data on health effects of military-related metal exposures have yet to be systematized. The existing data demonstrate adverse neurological, cardiovascular, and reproductive outcomes in exposed military personnel. Moreover, military-related metal exposures also result in adverse neurodevelopmental outcome in children living within adulterated territories. Experimental in vivo and in vitro studies also demonstrated toxic effects of specific metals as well as widely used metal alloys, although laboratory data report much wider spectrum of adverse effects as compared to epidemiological studies. Therefore, further epidemiological, biomonitoring and laboratory studies are required to better characterize military-related metal exposures and their underlying mechanisms of their adverse toxic effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111568
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Copper
  • Embedded fragments
  • Gunshot
  • Lead
  • Military

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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