Metal toxicity

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Metal toxicity is the toxic effect of certain metals in certain forms and doses on life. Some metals are toxic when they form poisonous soluble compounds. Certain metals have no biological role, i.e. are not essential minerals, or are toxic when in a certain form.[1] In the case of lead, any measurable amount may have negative health effects.[2] Often heavy metals are thought as synonymous, but lighter metals may also be toxic in certain circumstances, such as beryllium, and not all heavy metals are particularly toxic, and some are essential, such as iron. The definition may also include trace elements when considered in abnormally high, toxic doses.

Toxic metals sometimes imitate the action of an essential element in the body, interfering with the metabolic process to cause illness. Many metals, particularly heavy metals are toxic, but some heavy metals are essential, and some, such as bismuth, have a low toxicity. Most often the definition of toxic metals includes at least cadmium, lead, mercury and the radioactive metals.[citation needed] Metalloids (arsenic, polonium) may be included in the definition. Radioactive metals have both radiological toxicity and chemical toxicity. Metals in an oxidation state abnormal to the body may also become toxic: chromium(III) is an essential trace element, but chromium(VI) is a carcinogen.

Toxicity is a function of solubility. Insoluble compounds as well as the metallic forms often exhibit negligible toxicity. The toxicity of any metal depends on its ligands. In some cases, organometallic forms, such as methylmercury and tetraethyl lead, can be extremely toxic. In other cases, organometallic derivatives are less toxic such as the cobaltocenium cation.

Decontamination for toxic metals is different from organic toxins: because toxic metals are elements, they cannot be destroyed. Toxic metals may be made insoluble or collected, possibly by the aid of chelating agents. Alternatively, they can be diluted into a sufficiently large reservoir, such as the sea, because immediate toxicity is a function of concentration rather than amount. However, bioaccumulation has the potential to reverse this.

Toxic metals can bioaccumulate in the body and in the food chain.[citation needed] Therefore, a common characteristic of toxic metals is the chronic nature of their toxicity. This is particularly notable with radioactive heavy metals such as radium, which imitates calcium to the point of being incorporated into human bone, although similar health implications are found in lead or mercury poisoning. The exceptions to this are barium and aluminium, which can be removed efficiently by the kidneys.

Toxic metals[edit]

Aluminium has no known biological role and its classification into toxic metals is controversial. Significant toxic effects and accumulation to tissues have been observed in renally impaired patients.[3] However, individuals with healthy kidneys can be exposed to large amounts of aluminium with no ill effects. Thus, aluminium is not considered dangerous to persons with normal elimination capacity.[4]

Vanadium poisoning is notable as it is an anti-corrosive component of automotive steel, fragments of which can be left in passengers during an automobile accident.

Trace elements with toxicity[edit]


Some heavy nonmetals may be erroneously called "metals", because they have some metallic properties.


  1. ^ "A Metals Primer". Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program. 2012-05-30. Retrieved 2013-12-29. 
  2. ^ "Announcement: Response to the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Report, Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call for Primary Prevention". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2012-05-25. 
  3. ^ Egbuna, Ogo I.; Bose, Anirban (2004). "Acute Aluminum Neurotoxicity Secondary To Treatment Of Severe Hyperphosphatemia Of Acute Renal Failure And The K/DOQI Guidelines: A Case Report And Review Of The Literature". The Internet Journal of Nephrology 2 (2). 
  4. ^ Bernardo, Jose F; Tarabar, Asim (2012-06-25). "Aluminum Toxicity". Medscape. 

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