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Original article

Vol. 150 No. 1516 (2020)

Uranium exposure of the Swiss population based on 24-hour urinary excretion

  • Judith Jenny-Burri
  • Annabelle Blanc
  • Rafael Aubert
  • Max Haldimann
  • Ursina Zürcher
  • Michel Burnier
  • Fred Paccaud
  • Murielle Bochud
  • Vincent Dudler
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2020;150:w20207



Important regional differences in uranium exposure exist because of varying uranium concentrations in soil, water and food. Comprehensive data on the exposure of the general population to uranium is, however, scarce. Based on the 24-hour urinary excretion, the uranium exposure of the adult Swiss population was assessed in relation to age, sex, place of residence, body mass index (BMI), smoking habit and type of drinking water, as well as risk factors in relation to kidney impairment and indicators of a possible renal dysfunction.


Uranium was quantified in 24-hour urine from a nationwide population-based sample (n = 1393). The ratio 238U/233U was measured for isotope dilution calibration with a sector field inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (HR-ICP-MS).


Overall median and 95th percentile were 15 and 67 ng/24 h, respectively. The place of residence significantly influenced urinary uranium excretion. However, most of the highest urinary uranium excretion levels could not be associated to areas known for their elevated uranium concentrations in the drinking water. Sources other than the local drinking water (e.g., bottled water) might be important, too. Gender as well as albumin excretion also had a significant effect on uranium excretion. The latter was, however, strongly dependent on the presence of diabetes mellitus. No association was found for age, BMI, smoking habit or the other examined kidney related variables.


On the basis of uranium exposure, assessed via 24-hour urinary uranium excretion, and current knowledge of the toxicity of naturally occurring uranium, a substantial corresponding health risk for the general adult population is unlikely. However, as long as no specific sensitive biomarker for the biological impact of low-dose chronic uranium exposure has been identified and validated, assessing subtle health impact of such exposure will remain difficult.


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