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Heavy Metals In Your Environment

The discovery of heavy metals in drinking water is not a shocking one. What is shocking though is the amount of heavy metals that in some instances is found in the drinking water.

Heavy metals occur in the environment naturally. It is when the level of metals gets so high that it actually contaminates the drinking water used by millions of people each day. If drinking water is contaminated with high levels of heavy metals, then it not only affects the water drank, but also the water used to make or clean food; clean cooking or eating utensils and washing your hands with before preparing food.

How Do Heavy Metals Get Into The Water Through Nature?

Heavy metals are normally found in soil and rocks. The weathering of the soil and rocks breaks down and allows these metals to flow into lakes and rivers.

How Do You Get Heavy Metals Into Your Body?

Heavy metals are a normal occurrence in the environment and are only harmful to people when they accumulate at particular levels. The metals accumulate at these dangerous levels due to human activities such as mining; incineration of garbage, tobacco and fossil fuels. It can also occur with forest fires. The heavy metals that typically create concern amongst environmental groups are lead, cadmium and mercury.

Where Do Heavy Metals Come From and How Long Can They Exist?

As you might imagine, heavy metals do not easily breakdown in the environment. In fact with the exception of radiation these metals would last forever. The metals get spread over wide distances by water and air currents.  A good example would be factories in China outputting smoke that gets into the jet stream and carry into the United States and Canada. This is also known as long-range particle transport.

All Types of Animal and Plant Life Are Exposed

Plants and animals absorb heavy metals through the food they eat; water they drink and air they breathe. Some heavy metals are passed through biomagnification by natural selection in the food chain from prey to predator.

Problems with Heavy Metals

As stated earlier, some heavy metals are normal and actually healthy for people in small amounts like copper, chromium and iron. The problems occur when the body gets too much or gets any amount of metals like mercury or lead which are harmful to the body.

It can hurt the liver, spleen and kidneys when the metals build up in the body. Once in the body, the metals don’t dissolve or completely pass through during digestion or respiration. Long-term exposure also affects internal organs, the brain and normal growth and development. The most sensitive group of people affected with heavy exposure is unborn babies and children.

Awareness of Heavy Metals

Since heavy metals occur naturally in the environment it would be impossible to control them in nature, but man-made causes are controllable and need to be addressed with countries entering into agreements to control the production of heavy metals pollutants. One such agreement calls for the use of the latest technology to limit these emissions.

What Can You Do?

Some things the average person can do to avoid overexposure to heavy metals is to avoid fish that are high in mercury. Watch for lead paints especially in homes built before 1978. Let water run in pipes before drinking it. Check ingredients in medicines and cosmetics as they can contain heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic. Don’t use products containing mercury like thermometers or fluorescent light bulbs.

You should also check art and painting supplies that may contain mercury. Avoiding herbicides and composite teeth fillings can also help from being exposed to heavy metals. Generally, having an overall awareness of what is in the foods you eat, liquids you drink and air you breathe should give you a better indication of heavy metals in the world you live.

References:

Heavy Metals: Mercury, Arsenic and Lead. People in Pollution. Retrieved from:http://pollutioninpeople.org/toxics/metals

The effects of heavy metal on the environment and on health. EPTA. Retrieved from: http://eptanetwork.org/projects.php?pid=313

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