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Exposure Routes

Exposure Routes - Exposure Symptoms - Staying Healthy


Heavy metals, (HM), are metals which have a significantly higher density than water. Traces of many HM are essential for proper functioning of the body. Unfortunately, the incorporation of excess HM in the body results in toxic effects. Therefore, exposure of the body to excess HM and their incorporation should be avoided. Most of the foods and fluids that we drink contain small traces of HM but in general, these traces are not harmful. However, once the HM concentration exceeds certain levels, steps should be taken to stop the exposure and, in some cases, decontaminate or cleanse the body.

There are over 30 HM but approximately ten of them are important in terms of exposure and health effects. Table 1 below lists the ten most important HM and their main paths of exposure.

Table 1: Routes of Exposure for Common Heavy Metals

Heavy Metal

Symbol

Present in Foods

Environmental Exposure

Oral Exposure Limits

Arsenic

As

Food, Drinking Water

Rat Poison, Contaminated Groundwater & Soil

MRL* = 0.005 mg/kg/day (Acute)

MRL = 0.0003 mg/kg/day (Chronic)

Cadmium

Cd

Food (esp. Shellfish, Liver & Kidney), Water

Cigarette Smoke, Old Paints, Industrial Facilities

MRL = 0.0005 mg/kg/day (Acute)

MRL = 0.0001 mg/kg/day (Chronic)

Chromate

CrO4-2

Food, Drinking Water

Old Paints, Uncontrolled HAZMAT Waste Sites

MRL = 0.005 mg/kg/day (Acute)

MRL = 0.001 mg/kg/day (Chronic)

Lead

Pb

Contaminated Water and Food

Old Pipes & Pumps, Lead-based Paint, Rat Poison

EPA = 15 μg/L in Drinking Water

Mercury

Hg

Contaminated Water and Food (esp. Shellfish)

Contaminated Soil, Mining Operations, Batteries, Fluorescent Lights

EPA  = 2 ppb in Drinking Water

FDA = 1 ppm in Seafood (Methyl-Hg)

Thallium

Tl

Contaminated Food, (esp. Shellfish)

Rat Poison, Power Plants, Specialty Glass and Lenses

EPA = 13 ppb in Drinking Water

 

 

 

 

 

Aluminum

Al

Traces in Food & Water, Antacids

Waste Site Runoff, Naturally Present in Most Soil

Generally Safe

Iron

Fe

Red Meat, Blood

Naturally Present in Most Soil, Cookware, Food Supplements

Generally Safe

Nickel

Ni

Contaminated Water

Incinerators, Soil, Power Plants, Tobacco Smoke, Stainless Cookware, Jewelry

Generally Safe, Minor Irritant

Zinc

Zn

Nuts, Low Levels in Food and Drink

Metal Manufacturing Operations, Material Spills. Certain medications & supplements

Generally Safe

     * MRL = Minimal Risk Levels (Established by U.S. Centers for Disease Control - CDC)

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