What are Heavy Metals?
The earliest known metals—common metals such as iron, copper, and tin, and precious metals such as silver, gold, and platinum—are heavy metals. From 1809 onward, light metals, such as magnesium, aluminium, and titanium, were discovered, as well as less well-known heavy metals including gallium, thallium, and hafnium.
Some heavy metals are either essential nutrients (typically iron, cobalt, and zinc), or relatively harmless (such as ruthenium, silver, and indium), but become toxic in larger amounts or certain forms.
Other heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, and lead, are highly poisonous. Potential sources of heavy metal poisoning include mining, tailings, industrial wastes, agricultural runoff, occupational exposure, paints and treated timber.
Heavy metals are natural components of the Earth’s crust. They cannot be degraded or destroyed.
They enter our bodies via food, drinking water and air.
Why are Heavy Metals dangerous in water?
As trace elements, some heavy metals (e.g. copper, selenium, zinc) are essential to maintaining the metabolism of the human body.
However, at higher concentrations, they can lead to poisoning.
Heavy metal poisoning could result, for instance, from drinking-water contamination(e.g. lead pipes, older brass taps which have higher levels of lead in the brass), high ambient air concentrations near emission sources, or intake via the food chain.
Heavy metals are dangerous because they tend to bioaccumulate. Bioaccumulation means an increase in the concentration of a chemical in a biological organism over time, compared to the chemical’s concentration in the environment. Compounds accumulate in living things anytime they are taken up and stored faster than they are broken down (metabolized) or excreted.
Heavy metals can enter a water supply by industrial and consumer waste, or even from acidic rain breaking down soils and releasing heavy metals into streams, lakes, rivers, and groundwater.
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