Effects of Pollution and heavy metals on Human health



Muhammad Umar Javed (Department of Entomology, University of agriculture Faisalabad)

Faryal Fatima (Department of Pure and Applied Biology, Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan)

Uswa Javed (Department of Food science, Government college university Faisalabad)

E-mail: [email protected] , [email protected]


Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that causes adverse change/affect into the environment. Pollution’s contaminants also effect on the human health and plants or other living organisms. Pollution is a change in the physical, chemical or biological characteristics of air, water and soil that may harmfully affect the life of living organisms or create health hazard in the living organism. Pollution creates direct or indirect change in component of the biosphere that is harmful to particular for man, Plants. Pollutants are the components of pollution that are alien substances A Pollutant defined as “any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration which may be injurious to the environment.” Pollutants are the residues things; we use and throw into dust bin. There are many sources of pollutants. The lakes and rivers are polluted by water from chemical which extracted out from factories and the air by gases of automobile exhausts, industries, thermal power plants. According to survey of organization (WFO) World health organization. In 2015, pollution killed 9 million people in the world.

Types of Pollutants:


There are many principal of pollutants which pollute air; water and land are as follows:

  • Deposited matter. Smoke, tar, dust.
  • Oxides of nitrogen, sulphur oxide, carbon monoxide, halogens, (chlorine, bromine, iodine)
  • Acids droplets, Sulphuric acid, nitric acid.
  • Fluorides
  • Mercury, lead, iron, zinc, nickel, tin, cadmium, chromium.
  • Biocides (like pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, bactericides, weedicides and fertilizers.
  • Domestic waste
  • Radioactive wastes
  • Heavy metals are very most effective component of pollution to the human health, plants, soil and others living organisms.


Heavy Metals and Human Health:

A heavy metal is a dense metal that is (usually) toxic at low concentrations. If its doses are increased in the body of organisms it may cause the adverse effect or may cause death. Heavy metals are individual metals and metal compounds that can impact human health. Eight heavy metals which is affective for human health





  • arsenic
  • barium
  • cadmium
  • chromium
  • lead
  • mercury
  • selenium
  • silver


These are all naturally substances which are present in the environment at low levels. In larger amounts, they can be dangerous. Humans are exposed these metals by ingestion (drinking or eating) or inhalation (breathing). Working in or living near an industrial site which utilizes these metals and their compounds increases ones risk of exposure, as does living near a site where these metals have been improperly disposed.





Symbol: As

Atomic number: 33

Electron configuration: [Ar] 3d104s24p3

Atomic mass: 74.9216 u ± 0.00002 u

Boiling point: 613 °C


Arsenic is a metalloid element, which forms a number of poisonous compounds. It is widely distributed throughout the earth’s crust, and is found in groundwater supplies in a number of countries

Aside from occurring naturally in the environment, arsenic can be released in larger quantities through volcanic activity, burning of wood, erosion of rocks, forest fires, and human activity. The wood preserving industry uses about 90% of the industrial arsenic in the U.S. Arsenic is also found in paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps and semi-conductors. Animal feeding operations and certain fertilizers and pesticides can release high amounts of arsenic to the environment as can industry practices such as copper or lead smelting, mining, and coal burning


Health effects


Arsenic have no odour and taste. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen; it causes cancer of the skin, lungs, liver and bladder.

  • Acute level of exposure cause nausea, vomiting, decreased production of red and white blood cells, abnormal heart beat and heart rhythm, damage to blood vessels, blockage in veins and a sensation of “pins and needles” pain in hands and feet or sometime in shoulders.

Chornic level effect









·        Skin·         Darkness in skin

·          formation of  skin scaly on the palms and soles

·        Arsenic-induced skin cancers (especially Bowen disease)

·        Nails·        white bands of arsenic deposits across bed of the fingernails
·        Hair·         deposition of arsenic in hairs
·        Nervous system·        Sensory changes

·        Headache, drowsiness, confusion

·         weakness of small muscles of  hands and feet

·        Blood and urine·        Haemolytic anaemia

·        leukopenia (low white cell count)

·        Proteinuria (protein in urine)






Electron configuration[Kr] 4d105s2

Atomic number48

Atomic mass112.411 u ± 0.008 u


Melting point321.1 °C


Cadmium is a very toxic metal. All soils and rocks, including coal and mineral fertilizers, contain some cadmium. Cadmium has many uses, including batteries, pigments, metal coatings, and plastics. It is used extensively in electroplating.


Effects of Cadmium Exposure

Cadmium is of no use to the human body and is toxic even at low levels. The negative effects of cadmium on the body are numerous and can affect all systems of the body, including



  • cardiovascular
  • Reproductive
  • kidneys
  • eyes
  • brain
  • Blood pressure.
  • prostate function
  • Testosterone levels.
  • bone damage

Exposure to cadmium can affect renal and dopaminergic systems in children.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, cadmium induces multiple organ damage and one of most important affect is a carcinogen. Research by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services confirms cadmium is linked to human pancreatic cancer.





Electron configuration[Ar] 3d54s1

Atomic mass51.9961 u ± 0.0006 u

Atomic number24

Melting point1,907 °C


Chromium is found in rocks, animals, plants, and soil and can be a liquid, solid, or gas. Chromium compounds bind to soil and are not transfer into ground water. Chromium is used in metal alloys such as stainless steel; protective coatings on metal (electroplating) and pigments for paints, cement, paper, rubber, composition floor covering and other materials. Its soluble forms are used in wood preservatives and saving materials for long periods of times.

Health Effects


Chromium is the most dangerous cause health problems

  • allergic reactions
  • skin rash
  • nose irritations
  • nosebleed
  • ulcers
  • weakened immune system,
  • genetic material alteration
  • kidney
  • liver damage
  • Death of the individual.


It is recorded that consumption of 1000mg daily for elongated periods with no negative effects; but, as with all minerals our body needs, too much consumption may result in poisoning. EPA – 15 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water, 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter in air.








Atomic mass137.327 u ± 0.007 u

Atomic number56

Electron configuration[Xe] 6s2



Barium is a very abundant, naturally occurring metal and is used for a variety of industrial purposes. Barium compounds, such as barium-nickel alloys are used for spark-plug electrodes and in vacuum tubes as a drying and oxygen-removing agent; barium sulphide is used in fluorescent lamps; barium sulphate is used in diagnostic medicine; barium nitrate and chlorate give fireworks a green colour. Barium compounds are also used in drilling muds, paint, bricks, ceramics, glass, and rubber.


Health effect

This chemical may damage heart and cardiovascular system, and cause a high blood pressure in laboratory animals such as rats exposed to high levels during their lifetimes. In humans, the intake of very large amounts of barium that are water-soluble may cause paralyses and in some cases even death.

Drinking water that meets the EPA standard is associated with little to none of this risk and is considered safe with respect to barium.

Small amounts of water-soluble barium may cause

  • breathing difficulties
  • increased blood pressure
  • heart rhythm changes
  • heart beat speed increase
  • stomach irritation
  • muscle weakness
  • nerve reflexes
  • swelling of brains
  • liver problems
  • kidney pain
  • heart damage and blockage of veins

Barium has not been shown to cause cancer with humans. There is no proof that barium can cause infertility or birth defects.

EPA – 2.0 parts per million (ppm) in drinking water. ● OSHA – 0.5 milligrams of soluble barium compounds per cubic meter of workplace air for 8 hour shifts and 40 hour work week.













Atomic mass207.2 u ± 0.1 u

Atomic number82

Melting point327.5 °C

Electron configuration[Xe] 4f145d106s26p2

Boiling point1,749 °C


Lead produced from fossil fuel burning, mining, and manufacturing, lead and lead compounds can be found in all parts of our environment and around us. This includes air, soil, and water. Lead is used in many different ways. It is used to produce batteries, ammunition, metal products pipes, and X-ray shielding devices. Lead is a highly toxic metal related to health concern.  Its use in several products like gasoline, paints, and pipe. Most common sources of lead exposure is lead-based paint and water pipes in older homes, contaminated soil, household dust, drinking water, lead crystal, lead in certain cosmetics and toys, and plastic pottery.


Health effect

Short-term overexposure

Lead poisoning happen if a person is exposed to very high levels of lead over a short period of time. When this happens, a person may feel:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipated
  • Tired
  • Headachy
  • Irritable
  • Loss of appetite
  • Memory loss
  • Pain or tingling in the hands and/or feet

Because these symptoms may occur slowly or may be caused by other things, lead poisoning can be easily overlooked. Exposure to high levels of lead may cause anaemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage. Very high lead exposure can cause death.

Lead can cross the placental barrier, which means pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child. Lead can damage a developing baby’s nervous system. Even low-level lead exposures in developing babies have been found to affect behaviour and intelligence. Lead exposure can cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility (in both men and women).

Prolonged exposure

A person who is exposed to lead over time may feel:


  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipated
  • Depressed
  • Distracted
  • Forgetful
  • Irritable
  • Nauseous/Sick
  • high blood pressure,
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • Reduced fertility

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), World health organization (WHO), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have determined that lead is probably cancer-causing in humans.





Melting point-38.83 °C

Atomic number80

Atomic mass200.59 u ± 0.02 u

Boiling point356.7 °C

Electron configuration[Xe] 4f145d106s2


Mercury combines with other elements to form organic and inorganic mercury compounds. Metallic mercury is used to produce chlorine gas and caustic soda, and is also used in thermometers, dental fillings, switches, light bulbs, and batteries. Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air. Mercury in soil and water is converted by microorganisms to methyl mercury, a bio accumulating toxin.


Health effects

The EPA has determined that mercuric chloride and methyl mercury are possible human carcinogens.

Metallic mercury mainly causes health effects when inhaled as a vapour where it can be absorbed through the lungs.  Symptoms of prolonged and/or acute exposures include:

  • tremors
  • emotional changes (such as mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness)
  • insomnia
  • neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching)
  • headaches
  • disturbances in sensations
  • changes in nerve responses
  • poor performance on tests of mental function

Higher exposures may also cause kidney effects, respiratory failure and death.


The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.

Exposure to high levels can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing foetuses.

  • Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.
  • Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapours may cause lung damage
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation. Regulatory limits
  • EPA – 2 parts per billion parts (ppb) in drinking water
  • FDA – 1 part of methyl mercury in a million parts of seafood.
  • OSHA – 0.1 milligram of organic mercury per cubic meter of workplace air and 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter of metallic mercury vapour for 8-hour shifts and 40-hour work week.





Atomic mass107.8682 u

Atomic number47

Melting point961.8 °C

Electron configuration[Kr] 4d105s1

Boiling point2,162 °C


Silver usually combines with other elements such as sulphide, chloride, and nitrate. Silver is used to make jewellery, silverware, electronic equipment, and dental fillings. Silver metal is also used in electrical contacts and conductors, in brazing alloys and solders, and in mirrors. Silver compounds are used in photographic film. Dilute solutions of silver nitrate and other silver compounds are used as disinfectants and as an antibacterial agent. Silver iodide has been used in attempts to seed clouds to produce rain.

 Health effects

According to EPA, silver are not classifiable as a human carcinogen.





Electron configuration[Ar] 3d104s24p4

Atomic mass78.96 u ± 0.03 u

Atomic number34

Van der Waals radius190 pm

Atomic radius120 pm

Electrons per shell2,8,18,6


Selenium is a trace mineral widely distributed in most rocks and soils.  Selenium is used in the electronics industry; as a nutritional supplement; in the glass industry; in plastics, paints, enamels, inks, and rubber; in the preparation of pharmaceuticals; as a nutritional feed additive for poultry and livestock; in pesticide formulations; in rubber production; as an ingredient in antidandruff shampoos; and as a constituent of fungicides. Radioactive selenium is used in diagnostic medicine.

Health effects


Selenium is toxic in large amounts, but trace amounts of it are necessary for cellular function. For humans, selenium is an essential trace nutrient. Selenium plays a role in the element functioning of the thyroid gland. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is 400 micrograms of selenium per day. Consumption above that level can lead to sclerosis

  • Short-term oral exposures to high concentrations cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
  • chronic oral exposure to high concentrations can produce sclerosis. Major signs of sclerosis are hair loss, nail brittleness, and neurological abnormalities.
  • Brief exposures to high levels in air can result in respiratory tract irritation, bronchitis, difficulty breathing, and stomach pains. Longer-term exposure can cause respiratory irritation, bronchial spasms, and coughing. Regulatory limits
  • EPA – 50 parts per billion of selenium (50 ppb) in drinking water.


Heavy metals don’t easily leave the body unless specific steps are taken to remove them. Here are some of  preferred ways to facilitate the removal of heavy metals from the body:



is an edible blue-green algae. It is known for its distinctive green colour and strong odour. It delivers a strong dose of protein, all eight of the essential amino acids, iron, folic acid, B vitamins, selenium, and manganese, resulting in strong therapeutic benefits. Spirulina can be effective in removing heavy metals from the nervous system and the liver.



 Chlorella is a solid green-colour form of algae. Although it is a little harder to digest than spirulina, chlorella is known to be effective in removing heavy metals for just this reason. Chlorella’s cell walls are very tough and often cannot be fully digested, and it is these cell walls that bind to toxins in your body in order to eliminate them.










Atlantic dulse.

 Atlantic dulse is edible seaweed that binds to metals such as aluminium (which is extremely prevalent in the food industry), mercury, lead, copper, and nickel. This seaweed works in the digestive tract all the way through the colon to seek out and bind with toxic heavy metals, without releasing them back into the body


Young barley grass.

Barley grass juice powder is not a very common food, but it does help address heavy metal toxicity in the various parts of the digestive system and the reproductive organs. If coupled with spirulina, barley grass juice powder can be even more effective.



 Edible wild plants dandelion and milk thistle both cleanse the blood vessels and improve the functionality of the liver, which is an important organ when it comes to eliminating impurities from the body.



 Ginger is one of the healthiest plants on earth. In addition to improving digestion and reducing inflammation in the body, ginger root supports kidney function. The kidneys play an important role in the body’s elimination process and are often one of the first targets of heavy metals toxicity, so they need ginger’s extra power boost.


In ancient Chinese medicine, it is believed that spring is one of the best times of the year to focus on clearing any impurities that have become embedded in the body, such as heavy metals. With these six food supplements, cleansing the body of accumulated heavy metals has never been easier during any season.








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