Heavy metals

What are heavy metals?

Heavy metals also called metallic trace elements (MTE) are inorganic chemical elements characterized by a high density (over 4000 kg/m3) and which present a significant toxicity for humans. They are naturally present in our environment.

What are the main heavy metals?

Historically, only lead, mercury and cadmium are considered as heavy metals. However, according to the definition of the European Union, heavy metals are "compounds of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, tellurium, thallium and tin".

Zinc, manganese and uranium can be added to this list.

What are the main health effects of heavy metals?

Some metals are essential to the functioning of the body but are toxic in excess. Most heavy metals have no biological function. For the latter, chronic exposure to low doses can have an impact on health because they are bioaccumulable (they accumulate in the body).

The following health effects have been observed :

  •     Neurological disorders (mercury, lead, arsenic)
  •     Nephrological disorders (kidney function, cadmium)
  •     Hepatic disorders (liver function, cadmium)
  •     Lead poisoning (lead poisoning)
  •     Allergies
  •     Carcinogens (arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, nickel)
  •     Growth retardation
  •     Developmental disorders
  •     Decreased fertility and reproductive toxicity (lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, nickel, mercury, cobalt)
  •     Pulmonary pathologies
  •     Chronic migraines

Because of their omnipresence in our environment and their high toxicity, lead, mercury and cadmium are of particular concern to health authorities.

Moreover, synergistic cocktail effects between heavy metals have been observed. The cumulative toxicity of a mixture of heavy metals is greater than the sum of the individual toxicities.

Why does exposure to heavy metals present a greater risk for pregnant or nursing women?

Exposure to heavy metals poses a high risk to the health of the embryo and then the fetus. Indeed, they can cross the placental barrier and intoxicate the unborn child in-utero with effects throughout its life to come.

Heavy metals can also pass into breast milk and affect infants whose bodies are still very fragile.


Why is exposure to heavy metals a greater risk for children?

As the metabolism of a young child is not the same as that of a small adult, the toxicity of heavy metals is multiplied. They have an effect on the formation of organs, growth and development of the body.

How to evaluate your exposure to heavy metals?

The EXPOZOM Heavy Metals analysis kit allows you to assess your exposure to these toxic substances from a strand of hair.

The analysis of heavy metals in the hair is performed by a certified laboratory and makes it possible to identify the toxic substances to which the body is exposed and to measure the level of exposure.

What are the sources of exposure to heavy metals?

We are exposed to heavy metals through ingestion, inhalation and skin contact.

Generally emitted in the form of very fine particles carried by the wind, they are disseminated in the soil and aquatic environments. They contaminate flora and fauna and end up in the human food chain.

They are naturally present in the soil from which they are extracted.

The main sources of exposure to heavy metals are :

  •     Industrial activities (incineration, mining, refining, metallurgy...)
  •     Fire fumes
  •     Soil pollution (natural, industrial or accidental)
  •     Natural water (rivers, lakes, ponds, groundwater for arsenic) which is used to produce drinking water (and which can then be contaminated by lead pipes)
  •     Motor vehicle traffic because for several decades, lead was added to gasoline to improve its power. Emitted in the form of fine particles disseminated with car traffic. This pollution is particularly important in urban areas and around major traffic routes. Even decades after its ban, it is so persistent that it continues to pollute these areas at high levels.   

Some heavy metals are bioaccumulative and can be found in the food chain, especially in :

  •     Fatty fish
  •     Shellfish filtering water (oysters, mussels...)
  •     Fatty meats, offal (liver, kidneys, brains...)

Dental care with amalgams emits mercury vapors directly into the body.

The interior environment of buildings is favorable to the accumulation of pollution by heavy metals. Lead is particularly present if lead pipes are installed or if paint including lead is deteriorating.

Some old objects include heavy metals.

They can be present in cosmetic products.

Occupational exposure to heavy metals

Professionals are a population particularly exposed to heavy metals because of the quantities, duration and frequency of exposure. In particular:

  •     Professions working on historical monuments because lead was widely used to reinforce masonry and frameworks
  •     Dentists during the installation and removal of amalgams which emit mercury vapors
  •     Working with natural pigments such as cadmium red, cobalt blue, chrome green, lead white (ceruse)
  •     Occupations working in mining and mineral refining
  •     Professionals working in the field of decontamination and clean-up
  •     Occupations working in incinerators
  •     Antique dealers who handle old objects
  •     Surface treatment professionals (anodizing)

Heavy Metals Analysis

Measurement of the exposure to toxic mineral elements contained in the air we breathe and the water or food we consume. Order your Test