Health effects of RDX
RDX stands for Royal Demolition eXplosive. It is also known as cyclonite or hexogen. The chemical name for RDX is 1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine. It is a white powder and is very explosive. It is used as an explosive and also combined with other ingredients in plastic explosives. Its odor and taste are unknown. It is a synthetic product that does not occur naturally in the environment. It creates fumes when it is burned with other substances.
Pathways in the enviroment
RDX particles can enter the air when it is disposed of by burning. RDX can enter the water from disposal of waste water from Army ammunition plants, and can enter water or soil from spills or leaks from improper disposal at these plants or at hazardous waste sites. RDX dissolves very slowly and to a limited extent in water, and it also evaporates very slowly from water. It does not cling to soil very strongly and can get into the groundwater from soil. RDX can be broken down in air and water in a few hours, but it breaks down more slowly in soil. RDX does not build up in fish or in people.
Few people will be exposed to RDX. Less than 500 people are known to work with RDX, but these people can breathe dust with RDX in it or get RDX on their skin. You may be exposed to RDX by drinking contaminated water or by touching contaminated soil if you live near factories that produce RDX. RDX has been found in water and soil at some ammunition plants. Surface water samples contained from nondetectable to 36.9 parts of RDX per 1 million parts (ppm) of water. Groundwater samples had levels of 0.001–14.1 ppm. RDX is present at higher levels in soil, with concentrations ranging from less than 5 ppm to 602 ppm. You may be exposed to RDX in the water or soil if it is disposed of improperly. We do not know how much might be in food or drinking water or how much is in the air.
Pathways in the body
RDX can get into your lungs if you breathe in the fumes of burning RDX or breathe in the dust from powdered RDX. It can also enter your body if it is in water that you drink. Soldiers have accidentally eaten it when they used it as cooking fuel and it got on their food. It may also pass through the skin into the bloodstream or enter through cuts or breaks in the skin. If you consume RDX, it enters your bloodstream very slowly. We do not know how much can enter through the lungs or skin. The most likely route of exposure at or near hazardous waste sites is contaminated drinking water. We know that it changes into other chemicals in your body, but we do not know which chemicals it changes to. Some of these other chemicals may be hazardous to your health. RDX will leave your body in the breath and urine within a few days.
RDX can cause seizures (a problem of the nervous system) in humans and animals when large amounts are inhaled or eaten. We do not know the effects of long-term, low-level exposure on the nervous system. No other significant health effects have been seen in humans. Rats and mice have had decreased body weights and slight liver and kidney damage from eating RDX for 3 months or more. We do not know if RDX causes cancer in people, but it did cause liver tumors in mice. We do not know whether RDX causes birth defects in humans; it did not cause birth defects in rabbits, but it did result in smaller offspring in rats. We also do not know whether RDX affects reproduction in people.
Medical tests are available to determine whether you have been exposed to RDX. These tests measure RDX levels in your blood or urine. However, these tests can only be used if you have come in contact with RDX in the last few days. These tests can determine if you have been exposed to RDX, but they cannot be used to determine how much RDX entered your body. The tests are not routinely available in the doctor's office, but may be ordered by the doctor. They cannot be used to determine long-term health effects from RDX. The usual immediate health effects are seizures, muscle twitching, or vomiting from very high exposures. These would probably occur before you had the blood or urine test.
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