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Heavy Metal Poisoning


Overview :

Heavy metals are chemical elements that have a specific gravity (a measure of density) at least five times that of water. The heavy metals most often implicated in accidental human poisoning are lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. More recently, thallium has gained some attention in the media as the poison used in several murder cases in the 1990s. Some heavy metals, such as zinc, copper, chromium, iron, and manganese, are required by the body in small amounts, but these same elements can be toxic in larger quantities.

Heavy metals may enter the body in food, water, or air, or by absorption through the skin. Once in the body, they compete with and displace essential minerals such as zinc, copper, magnesium, and calcium, and interfere with organ system function. People may come in contact with heavy metals in industrial work, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and agriculture. Children may be poisoned as a result of playing in contaminated soil. Lead poisoning in adults has been traced to the use of lead-based glazes on pottery vessels intended for use with food, and contamination of Ayurvedic and other imported herbal remedies. Arsenic and thallium have been mixed with food or beverages to attempt suicide or poison others.

Another form of mercury poisoning that is seen more and more frequently in the United States is self-injected mercury under the skin. Some boxers inject themselves with mercury in the belief that it adds muscle bulk. Metallic mercury is also used in folk medicine or religious rituals in various cultures. These practices increase the risk of mercury poisoning of children in these ethnic groups or subcultures.




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