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Gunnar Nordberg

Occurrence and Uses

Ruthenium is found in the minerals osmiridium and laurite, and in platinum ores. It is a rare element comprising about 0.001 ppm of the Earth’s crust.

Ruthenium is used as a substitute for platinum in jewellery. It is utilized as a hardener for pen nibs, electrical contact relays and electrical filaments. Ruthenium is also used in ceramic colours and in electroplating. It acts as a catalyst in the synthesis of long-chain hydrocarbons. In addition, ruthenium has been used recently in treating eye uveal malignant melanomas.

Ruthenium forms useful alloys with platinum, palladium, cobalt, nickel and tungsten for better wear resistance. Ruthenium red (Ru3Cl6H42N4O2) or ruthenium oxychloride ammoniated is used as a microscopy reagent for pectin, gum, animal tissues and bacteria. Ruthenium red is an eye inflammatory agent.


Ruthenium tetraoxide is volatile and irritating to the respiratory tract.

Some ruthenium electroplating complexes may be skin and eye irritants, but documentation of this is lacking. Ruthenium radioisotopes, chiefly 103Ru and 106Ru, occur as fission products in the nuclear fuel cycle. Since ruthenium may transform to volatile compounds (it forms numerous nitrogen complexes as noted above), there has been concern about its uptake in the environment. The significance of radio-ruthenium as a potential radiation hazard is still largely unknown.



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Metals: Chemical Properties and Toxicity References

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1995. Case Studies in Environmental Medicine: Lead Toxicity. Atlanta: ATSDR.

Brief, RS, JW Blanchard, RA Scala, and JH Blacker. 1971. Metal carbonyls in the petroleum industry. Arch Environ Health 23:373–384.

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). 1990. Chromium, Nickel and Welding. Lyon: IARC.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 1994. NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-116. Cincinnati, OH: NIOSH.

Rendall, REG, JI Phillips and KA Renton. 1994. Death following exposure to fine particulate nickel from a metal arc process. Ann Occup Hyg 38:921–930.

Sunderman, FW, Jr., and A Oskarsson,. 1991. Nickel. In Metals and their compounds in the environment, edited by E Merian, Weinheim, Germany: VCH Verlag.

Sunderman, FW, Jr., A Aitio, LO Morgan, and T Norseth. 1986. Biological monitoring of nickel. Tox Ind Health 2:17–78.

United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. 1995. Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, 9th edition. New York: United Nations.