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COMMON HEAVY METALS: Sources and Specific Effects

Aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and nickel are the most prevalent metals. The specific sources of exposure, body tissues in which the metal tends to be deposited, and health effects of each metal are identified below.

1. Aluminum
Sources of exposure: Aluminum cookware, aluminum foil, antacids, antiperspirants, baking powder (aluminum containing), buffered aspirin, canned acidic foods, food additives, lipstick, medications and drugs (anti-diarrheal agents, hemorrhoid medications, vaginal douches), processed cheese, "softened" water, and tap water. Target tissues: Bones, brain, kidneys, and stomach. Signs and symptoms: Colic, dementia, esophagitis, gastroenteritis, kidney damage, liver dysfunction, loss of appetite, loss of balance, muscle pain, psychosis, shortness of breath, and weakness.

2. Arsenic
Sources of exposure: Air pollution, antibiotics given to commercial livestock, certain marine plants, chemical processing, coal-fired power plants, defoliants, drinking water, drying agents for cotton, fish, herbicides, insecticides, meats (from commercially raised poultry and cattle), metal ore smelting, pesticides, seafood (fish, mussels, oysters, specialty glass, and wood preservatives. Target tissues: Most organs of the body, cells (cellular metabolism), gastrointestinal system, lungs, and skin. Signs and Symptoms: Abdominal pain, burning of the mouth and throat, cancer (especially lung and skin), coma, diarrhea, nausea, neuritis, peripheral vascular problems, skin lesions, and vascular collapse.

3. Cadmium
Sources of exposure: Air pollution, art supplies, bone meal, cigarette smoke, food (coffee, fruits, grains, and vegetables grown in cadmium-laden soil, meats [kidneys, liver, poultry], or refined foods), freshwater fish, fungicides, highway dusts, incinerators, mining, nickel-cadmium batteries, oxide dusts, paints, phosphate fertilizers, power plants, seafood (crab, flounder, mussels, oysters, scallops), sewage sludge, "softened" water, smelting plants, tobacco and tobacco smoke, and welding fumes. Target tissues: Appetite, smell and pain centers (in brain), brain, heart and blood vessels, Kidneys (renal cortex), and lungs. Signs and Symptoms: Anemia, dry and scaly skin, emphysema, fatigue, hair loss, heart disease, depressed immune system response, hypertension, joint pain, Kidney stones or damage, liver dysfunction or damage, loss of appetite, loss of sense of smell, lung pain in the back and legs, and yellow teeth.

4. Lead
Sources of exposure: Air pollution, ammunition (shot bullets), Bathtubs (cast iron, porcelain, steel), batteries, canned food, ceramics, chemical fertilizers, cosmetics, dolomite, dust, foods grown around industrial areas, gasoline, hair dyes, and rinses, leaded glass, newsprint and colored advertisements, paints, pesticides, pewter, pottery, rubber toys, soft coal, soil, solder, tap water, tobacco smoke and vinyl 'mini blinds'. Target tissues: Bones, brain, heart, Kidneys liver nervous system and pancreas. Signs and Symptoms: Abdominal pain, anemia, anorexia, anxiety, auto exhaust, bone pain, brain damage, confusion, constipation, convulsions, dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, headaches, hypertension, inability to concentrate, indigestion, irritability, loss of appetite, loss of muscle coordination, memory difficulties, miscarriage, muscle pain, pallor, tremors, vomiting, and weakness.

5. Mercury
Sources of exposure: Air pollution, batteries, cosmetics, dental amalgams, diuretics (mercurial), electrical devices and relays, explosives, food (grains), fungicides, fluorescent light, freshwater fish, (especially large bass, pike, and trout), insecticides, mining, paints, pesticides, petroleum products, saltwater fish ( especially large halibut, shrimp, snapper and swordfish), shell fish and tap water. Target tissues: Appetite and pain centers in the brain, cell membranes, kidneys, immune system and nervous systems (central and peripheral). Signs and Symptoms: Abnormal nervous and physical development (fetal and childhood), anemia, anorexia, anxiety, blood changes, blindness, blue line on gums, colitis, depression, dermatitis, difficulty chewing and swallowing, dizziness, drowsiness, emotional instability, fatigue, fever, hallucinations, headache, hearing loss, hypertension, inflamed gums, insomnia, kidney damage or failure, loss of appetite and sense of smell, loss of muscle coordination, memory loss, metallic taste in mouth, nerve damage, numbness, psychosis, salivation, stomatitis, tremors, vision impairment, vomiting, weakness, and weight loss.

6. Nickel
Sources of exposure: Appliances, buttons, ceramics, cocoa, cold-wave hair permanent, cooking utensils, cosmetics, coins, dental materials, food (chocolate, hydrogenated oils, nuts, foods grown near industrial areas), hair spray, industrial waste, jewelry, medical implants, metal refineries, metal tools, nickel-cadmium batteries, orthodontic appliances, shampoo, solid-waste incinerators, stainless steel kitchen utensils, tap water, tobacco and tobacco smoke, water faucets and pipes, and zippers. Target tissues: Areas of skin exposure, larynx (voice box), lungs and nasal passage. Signs and Symptoms: Apathy, blue-colored lips, cancer (especially lung, nasal and larynx), contact dermatitis, diarrhea, fever, headaches, dizziness, gingivitis, insomnia, nausea, rapid heart rate, skin rashes ( redness, itching, blisters), shortness of breath, stomatitis, and vomiting.