Air pollutant
Land contaminant
Water pollutant

Heavy metals

Heavy metals are an ill-defined group of inorganic chemical hazards that include lead, chromium, arsenic, and cadmium. They may leach into soil and water from industrial sites, mines or landfills, or pollute the air from facility emissions. Exposure to heavy metals can cause numerous health issues from gastrointestinal and kidney dysfunction to cancer to birth defects, and more.

Sources

The industrial activities of the last century have caused massive increases in human exposure to heavy metals, particularly mercury, lead, chromium, arsenic, and cadmium. Heavy metals may leach into soil and water from industrial sites, mines or landfills, or pollute the air from facility emissions.

Human health and environmental concerns

Exposure to heavy metals can cause gastrointestinal and kidney dysfunction, nervous system disorders, skin lesions, vascular damage, immune system dysfunction, birth defects, and cancer.

Exposure to hexavalent chromium is associated with lung cancer and nasal and sinus cancer. It can also cause damage to the nasal mucous membrane, perforation of the nasal septum, and asthma. If inhaled through the mouth, it can cause periodontitis and gingivitis.

Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In utero and early childhood exposure has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development and increased deaths in young adults.

Chronic exposure to cadmium can result in kidney, bone, and lung disease.