In experimental settings, uranium is toxic to kidneys, but effects on humans are unclear. Ingestion of water from drilled wells is a source of high uranium exposure in some populations.
Uranium exposure was measured in 95 men and 98 women aged 18 to 81 years who had used drinking water from drilled wells for an average of 16 years. Urinary N-acetyl-gamma-d-glucosaminidase, alkaline phosphatase, lactate dehydrogenase, gamma-glutamyltransferase, and glutathione-S-transferase; serum cystatin C; and urinary and serum calcium, phosphate, glucose, and creatinine were measured to evaluate possible toxic effects of uranium on kidney cells and renal function. In addition, supine blood pressure was measured. Associations between uranium exposure and the outcome variables were modeled by using linear regression with adjustment for age, sex, body mass index, smoking, and analgesic use.
Median uranium concentration in drinking water was 25 microg/L (interquartile range, 5 to 148 microg/L; maximum, 1,500 microg/L). Indicators of cytotoxicity and kidney function did not show evidence of renal damage. No statistically significant associations with uranium in urine, water, hair, or toenails was found for 10 kidney toxicity indicators. Uranium exposure was associated with greater diastolic and systolic blood pressures, and cumulative uranium intake was associated with increased glucose excretion in urine.
Continuous uranium intake from drinking water, even at relatively high exposures, was not found to have cytotoxic effects on kidneys in humans.