Heavy Metals and Health Concerns Essay Example

  • Category: Health, Health Care,
  • Words: 1710 Pages: 7
  • Published: 17 March 2021
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Metals are typically seen as materials possessing “high electrical conductivity which voluntarily lose their electrons to form cations” (Engwa). They are natural elements that exist amongst the earth's environment, and of these various forms of existing metals, there is a separate category classified as heavy metals. These certain metals are characterized by having a “high atomic weight and a density at least 5 times greater than that of water” (Tchounwou). Some metals that are typically categorized as being a heavy metal include: cadmium, arsenic, mercury, lead, iron, chromium, and manganese. This strata of metals are not only identified by their high density, but primarily and most notably by their detrimental impact upon the environment and living things. 

Currently, the contamination excreted by heavy metals presents a serious problem upon the entirety of the world. Although heavy metals are elements that are naturally appropriate throughout the environment by means of “volcanic eruptions, spring waters, erosion, and bacterial activity,” the majority of its environmental contamination and human health concerns stem from industrial productions and agricultural uses (Engwa).  As the toxicity of heavy metals are both natural phenomena and self-imposed, efforts should be made to reduce and immobilize the bioaccumulation and exposure on living organisms, as well as diminishing environmental degradation.  

Heavy metals are natural elements that are found in the environment. Arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury are some of the most prominent elements among us. They are also the ones that are causing the most problems within our environment. The elements themselves are not responsible for what they cause, rather it is us humans who are to blame. Heavy metals are used by humans in industrial, agricultural, and technological fields and are used heavily, which ends up causing these elements to cause more harm than good. In Heavy Metals Toxicity and the Environment, arsenic is the first element that is discussed. Arsenic is one of the heavy metals found in the agricultural field. In the journal it states, “Several arsenic-containing compounds are produced industrially, and have been used to manufacture products with agricultural applications such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, algicides, sheep dips, wood preservatives, and dye-stuffs. (Tchounwou).” In the journal, chromium’s effect in the industrial field is also a topic discussed. “Hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)] is a toxic industrial pollutant that is classified as human carcinogen by several regulatory and non-regulatory agencies [130–132]. 

The health hazard associated with exposure to chromium depends on its oxidation state, ranging from the low toxicity of the metal form to the high toxicity of the hexavalent form. (Tchounwou).” In Mercury as a Global Pollutant: Sources, Pathways, and Effects, Mercury is explained to be a key factor in the pollution in the environment. The over and constant use of mercury in the technological field has led to concerning amounts of pollutants in the air. The emissions released into the air have risen due to fuel combustion, waste incineration, and mining. In the article it states, “Primary emission sources due to human activity have increased over geogenic sources by a factor of 2–15, which is larger than the aforementioned factor of 3 average increase in Hg deposition (Driscoll).” With the over and constant use of these heavy metals in all these fields has caused many issues in the environment. They are all involved in the harm caused to it, whether it be agriculturally, technologically, or industrially. 

There have been studies to prove that heavy metals can cause an environmental concern, and one of them was done on the Caspian Turtles. In the year 2016, Iran officials had sent out a warning to the people living by the Caspian Sea. The inhabitants were warned to not swim in the waters because it was heavily polluted with crude oil, industrial waste, and raw sewage. The animals living  near or in the water, however, have not been spared from the toxins in the water. A team of researchers published a paper in the Environmental Science and Pollution Research journal that had stated that there was a high presence of mercury, lead, and cadmium in the waters where the Caspian turtles lived. 

According to the Scientific American Blog, “The researchers called the lead levels particularly worrying and noted that it could cause a range of health problems, including infertile eggs, slow growth, changes in behavior, and ultimately reduced chances of survival (Platt).” There was also a 1.4 to 3.6 increase in the mercury levels located in the turtles’ livers. The accumulation of heavy metals in the turtles’ bodies come from the environment as well as the prey they have eaten.

Heavy metals are toxic to humans, and while this case discusses the impact specifically in the Caspian Sea, heavy metals are a problem throughout numerous locations. Although humans were alerted to stay clear of the water in the Caspian Sea, the dangerous impact that the heavy metals had on the Caspian Turtles parallels the effect these metals could also have on humans if they had not been notified. The toxins found in the turtles may have been a result of some naturally present heavy metals, but were most likely produced by “the agriculture and industrial industries along the river bank” (Platt). This goes on to prove that yet again humans are the cause of different issues that aid in the deterioration of our environment. 

Lead is a heavy metal that can cause a negative effect on the environment and cause severe health concerns. To prove this, there was a case study that was presented of a 16-year-old girl who was diagnosed with lead poisoning after occupational exposure since the girl's family made her an active member in her family's pottery business. The symptoms that occurred during this time was a severe case of abdominal pain, vomiting, and arterial hypertension.  All of  these symptoms were a direct result of the heavy metal known as lead.  Since Lead is often described as "a soft, pliable, bluish-grey metal resistant to corrosion, that exists in both organic and inorganic forms"(Dapul H). 

Heavy metals can cause extreme health concerns such as lead poisoning and, it is considered a major health concern because it accounts for 0.6 percent of the global burden of the disease by the world health organization. In this sense, the lead is a well named risk factor for arterial hypertension (Lamas GA, Navas-Acien A, Mark DB, et al). In the girl’s case there was an increased value of arterial pressure, and it would also seem that this heavy metal was incriminated for reducing the bioavailability of nitric oxide, and therefore, prompting oxidative stress and inflammation (Lamas GA, Navas-Acien A, Mark DB, et al).

The girl in this study was then presented with severe abdominal pain, being diagnosed with acute appendicitis. She underwent an appendectomy, but the pain persisted, thus due to family history of lead poisoning, the suspicion of saturnine colic rose, and was diagnosed with lead poisoning. She received only symptomatic treatment. Approximately 3 weeks before admission to the clinic, she was admitted to the regional hospital with another episode of saturnine colic (blood lead: 113.2 μg/dL), and chelation therapy with EDTA (4 days before the admission in the clinic) was initiated, with a dose of 2 tablets daily, one in the morning and one in the evening associated with calcium supplements.

Heavy metals once in the human system wreak havoc and are capable of causing death. Within the case study of the 16-year-old girl there were many complications which eventually lead to a proper diagnosis. The girl had previously experienced symptoms such as severe abdominal pain and was diagnosed with acute appendicitis. Once diagnosed and treated for acute appendicitis the girl continued to experience severe abdominal pain for one year. The pain had refused to subside causing the medical team to look for other options which may have been causing her abdominal pain. Based upon her family medical history, the medical team had come to the conclusion she may have lead poisoning. 

After testing, the girl was diagnosed and treated for lead poisoning. Heavy metals may be very hard to detect and the symptoms of being poisoned cause many problems as they align with many other medical complications. The case study of the 16-year-old girl provides an excellent example of the complications that acquire into diagnosing a heavy metal poisoning. The article states the girl's medical complication had been “due to the fact that the girl was actively involved in the family's pottery business”(Dapul H). Humans are capable of not only harming themselves, but the environment around them due to the way society chooses to live. The pottery business had exposed the girl to a very harmful heavy metal only due to the fact that there is a demand for pottery within our society. The many luxuries of human life can cause damage to ones closest in life and the environment which humans rely on.

As examined, various forms of heavy metal pollutants pose a serious problem upon the world's ecosystem. Even though heavy metals are disbursed naturally throughout the world, self-imposed anthropogenic contamination through industrial and agricultural activities compose most of the pollution affecting the health of the environment and living organisms. However, much of these self-imposed problems can be resolved, similarly to other various forms of pollutants affecting the environment, by adapting instrumental and intrinsic values in order to forge an ecocentric worldview. Combating heavy metal pollution requires strategic initiative from the global community in order to bolster a sustainable ecosystem. 

As heavy metals cannot be fully eliminated from the environment, application of eco-friendly strategies and approaches can be applied in order to reduce the impact of heavy metal pollution. Bioremediation techniques, “the elimination of pollutants from a contaminated site by using microbial systems,” is an applied strategy that negates and converts heavy metal toxins into a less adverse contaminant. This strategy poses a reduced impact on the ecosystem, while safeguarding the surrounding environment. Strategies such as this reduce pollutants while bolstering a global objective of sustainable development and well-being of living organisms.

Work Cited

Dapul H, Laraque D. Lead poisoning in children. Adv Pediatr 2014; 


Driscoll, Charles T. “Mercury as a Global Pollutant: Sources, Pathways, and Effects.” ACS   

Publications, American Chemistry Society, 3 May 2013, 


Engwa, Azeh Goodwill, et al. (June 19th 2019). “Mechanism and Health Effects of Heavy Metal Toxicity in Humans, Poisoning in the Modern World - New Tricks for an Old Dog?” IntechOpen, 19, Jun. 2019, https://www.intechopen.com/books/poisoning-in-the-modern-world-new-tricks-for-an-old-dog-/mechanism-and-health-effects-of-heavy-metal-toxicity-in-humans. Accessed 2 October 2019.

Lamas GA, Navas-Acien A, Mark DB, et al. Heavy metals, cardiovascular disease, and the 

unexpected benefits of chelation therapy. J Am Coll Cardiol 2016; 


Leadguidance.pdf. http://www.who.int/ceh/publications/leadguidance.pdf. Accessed June 19, 

2016 http://www.who.int/ceh/publications/leadguidance.pdf, Accessed September 11, 


Mărginean, Cristina Oana, et al. “Lead Poisoning in a 16-Year-Old Girl: a Case Report and a 

Review of the Literature (CARE Compliant).” Medicine, Wolters Kluwer Health, Sept. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5044910/#!po=11.2500.

Platt, John R. “Heavy: Caspian Turtles Are Polluted by Toxic Lead, Mercury and Cadmium.”    

Scientific American Blog Network, 2 Feb. 2016, 


Pratush, Amit, et al. “Adverse Effect of Heavy Metals (As, Pb, Hg, and Cr) on Health and Their Bioremediation Strategies: A Review.” International Microbiology, vol. 21, no. 3, Sept. 2018, pp. 97–106. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10123-018-0012-3.

Tchounwou, Paul B., et al. “Heavy Metals Toxicity and the Environment.” National Center for Biotechnology and Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4144270/. Accessed 2 October 2019.



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