Urinary tellurium (Te) provides an indication of recent or ongoing exposure to the metal, and endogenous detoxification to a lesser extent. The metal has no physiological function in the body, and urinary excretion is predominant.
Te is a very rare element that is a byproduct of milled copper. The use of Te in industrial applications has increased in scope and scale. Te may be used as an additive in steel and it is often alloyed to aluminum, copper, lead and tin. It is also used in the manufacture of solar panels (cadmium-telluride), cast iron, ceramics, vulcanized rubber, blasting caps, and glass production.
Elemental Te is poorly absorbed so exposure to the metal from food and water is rare; organic Te compounds are found in relatively high concentration in fresh garlic buds. Soluble Te compounds can be absorbed through the skin, although ingestion or inhalation of fumes presents the greatest industrial hazard.
Aerosolized Te is irritating to the eyes and is readily absorbed by the respiratory tract and can cause respiratory irritation, drowsiness, dry mouth, metallic taste, headache, abdominal pain, nausea and constipation. The main target sites for Te toxicity are the kidney, nervous system, skin, and the fetus.
Chronic exposure to Te may be associated with garlic odor of the breath and sweat, as Te is methylated to dimethyl telluride in the body.
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