If you were attentive enough in your high school chemistry classes, you might have come across the term heavy metals. In essence, these are elements (or their compounds) that occur naturally in the earth and the environment surrounding us. Through various channels, these heavy metals can eventually find their way into the human body and in high concentrations, some of them can be harmful. Some common routes include inhalation and ingestion of food or water.Four common heavy metals and an explanation on the Dangers of Heavy Metals for your health.Look at this list of Dangers of Heavy Metals.
However, air and water tend to be the most common ways through which humans get exposed to harmful levels of heavy metals and their compounds. This is why homeowners are advised to invest in air purifiers and water filters for their homes. As far as drinking water is concerned, Brittany from Sick of Being Stuck asserts that if you browse these filter options, you may not have to worry about the health risks of heavy metal contamination again. With a good heavy metal water filter, you can protect you and your family or household from the risks associated with heavy metals toxicity. But what are these heavy metals and what are their risks?
Here’s an overview of the most common Dangers of Heavy Metals
The Most Common Heavy Metals
If high-school Chemistry is anything to go by, there are dozens of heavy metals on the periodic table. However, only a handful may be toxic to humans after certain “higher” levels of exposure. Some of the most common heavy metals that can have deleterious effects to one’s health after a considerable level of exposure include:
For most of these heavy metals, exposure may occur through air pollution, water pollution, food (fertilizers and pesticides), medicine, paints, and industrial exposure, among others. Often, exposure to higher levels of these metals leads to heavy metal poisoning, alongside other short-term and long term health effects. Below, we look at how each of the above heavy metals may affect one’s health after exposure.
Mostly naturally occurring in minerals as a sulfur compound, arsenic is one of the most common heavy metals with unpleasant health effects on the human body. Exposure to arsenic in lower levels is known to lead to various health effects, including a decline in red blood cell production, nausea, vomiting, blood vessel damage, tachycardia, and a tingling sensation in hands and feet, among others. In higher levels, arsenic can be carcinogenic (able to cause cancer). Other health effects of ingesting arsenic at high levels may include dark skin and wart formation on the palms and soles. Common sources of arsenic exposure include:
- Hazardous waste
- Contaminated seafood
- Contaminated water, soil, minerals
- Ingestion of insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides
At atomic number 48, cadmium and its compounds are carcinogenic to humans. High levels of exposure are more common among cigarette smokers, in whom cadmium poisoning can cause significant damage to the lungs. Apart from severe lung damage, other common negative health effects of cadmium include stomach irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney disease, and weak bones. In addition to inhaling cigarette smoke, other risk factors of cadmium exposure include welding works and industrial smelting works that involve cadmium-containing metal ores.
Unfortunately, Lead is by far one of the most abundant heavy metals in our environment. This often comes from human activities like mining, manufacturing, and burning of fossil fuels. As a result, lead contamination is present in water, air, and soil. However, thanks to the efforts of environmental protection organizations, the use of Lead in the production of gasoline, batteries, and other fuel [products has been reduced. Common health effects of lead include organ damage (such as brain and kidney), cancer, anemia, elevated blood pressure, miscarriage in pregnant women, and reproductive system damage in men, among others. The specific health effects and their severity may depend on the levels of exposure, short-term or long-term.
Last but not least, Mercury is another heavy metal whose negative health effects of exposure can be fatal. The metal is often used in the production of various compounds and products, including chlorine gas, caustic soda, light bulbs, dental fillings, thermometers, switches, and batteries. Mercuric compounds are also often emitted to the atmosphere during coal-burning activities. Negative health effects of mercury include:
- Potentially carcinogenic: especially methyl mercury and mercuric chloride
- Affects the nervous system
- May cause brain, lung, and kidney damage
- May affect growing fetuses
- Mild symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting (short-term exposure)
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
Common sources of mercury exposure include drinking contaminated water, inhaling mercury vapors, working in gold and silver mining and refinery firms, and exposure through transportation. It is also possible to get exposed while working in firms that manufacture X-ray machines, mirrors, incandescent lights, and vacuum pumps.
In addition to the ones discussed above, other common heavy metals with negative health effects on humans include barium, Selenium, and Silver. Specifically, Silver is known to cause breathing problems and respiratory system irritation, along with topical allergic reactions such as rash and inflammation. Selenium can lead to Selenosis, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory problems. In a nutshell, heavy metals can be quite deleterious to your health and the best thing you can do is to avoid or prevent exposure as much as you can, say by ensuring the air you breathe and the water you drink is filtered and purified.