Posted by: terrauniversity | April 22, 2012

Effects of Metals

by Carol Ruiz-Lopez

Metals and metallic compounds are dispersed and found all over the environment. Our entire human population is exposed to these elements, even if it’s of a low level of exposure. These metals can arise both naturally and by man-made sources. Human exposure can come from a variety of different ways, such as through inhalation of metal fumes and vapors, contact with contaminants leaching from hazardous waste sites, ingestion of contaminated food and water, contact with emissions from smelters and coal-fired power plants, contact with metals in occupations related to metal working, etc. Mercury and Lead are some examples of metals that pose a hazard to human health. Mercury is said to be hazardous to women that bear children or may bear children if ingested in high levels (Friis, 2012). Lead has caught attention in the media because of its potential harm to child development. Metals can be beneficial to humans but if exposed to them at high levels they can be extremely hazardous. Certain metals are essential to human health, such as, copper, zinc, and iron. However, if ingested in excessive amounts these metals can be toxic.

The effects of high levels of metal toxicity can be detrimental to anyone of any age and any gender. However the effects vary greatly from women, to men, to children. These differences are partly because of metabolic and hormonal processes which are related to menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Also, women are generally smaller than men, causing women to be more affected by a given amount of metal than men. For example, during pregnancy, exposure to mercury is particularly hazardous to the unborn fetus. As for fetuses, infants, and children, heavy metals can present serious hazards that can cause both physical and mental developmental impairments, forms of cancer, damage to nervous system and internal organs, and even death. Lead paint endangers infants and children when it peels from walls and the exposure form this is associated with serious central nervous system effects. Other ways of exposure can come from when parents, whose work involves exposure to lead, come home from work and handle their children and expose them to those some heavy metals.

Metallic compounds and heavy metals occur naturally and almost universally in the environment. The entire human population is exposed to metals at one point or another. Although some of these metals are essential to human nutrition, those same metals can be toxic if taken in at high levels. Some metals, however, (like arsenic, lead and mercury) are toxic at even low levels. Environmental policy makers have an important role of reducing the level of toxic metals in our environment, and in foods, so that our human population may be safer from the effects of these toxic metals.

For educators: It’s never too early or late to begin learning about the heavy metals that have these toxic effects on our bodies. Essentials of Environmental Health by Robert H. Friis contains a lot of information for any learning level and brings much insight to the toxic metal we are exposed to everyday.


Friis, Robert H. Essentials of Environmental Health. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2012. Print.

“Safety and Health Topics | Battery Manufacturing.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Web. 21 Apr. 2012.

“Heavy Metal Toxicity – Heavy Metals, Arsenic, Mercury – Life Extension Health Concern.” Web. 21 Apr. 2012.

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