Heavy Metals in Water & The Threat of Bioaccumulation

Metals. It appears nearly unattainable to keep away from them. They happen naturally within the atmosphere and our our bodies and could be current in lots of meals sources, dietary dietary supplements, and even the water flowing from our faucets.

Fortunately, many of those metals aren’t dangerous – at the least in tiny doses and with minimal publicity. However the harmful ones, particularly these which are heavy, dense, and located within the Earth’s crust, have been related to varied well being issues in kids and adults, usually resulting from bioaccumulation.

However doesn’t the EPA require utilities to observe and management ranges of heavy metals in faucet water to make sure they don’t exceed harmful limits? Sure, however some inevitably fall by means of the cracks and contaminate ingesting water provides. (Take the lead contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan, for instance.)

Luckily, a number of extremely efficient remedy strategies can filter poisonous heavy metals out of your own home’s water provide. However what are heavy metals precisely, and what does it imply for them to bioaccumulate? Additional, why is bioaccumulation of heavy metals in our our bodies a menace to our well being, and how are you going to cut back your publicity to heavy metals in your ingesting water?

What are Heavy Metals?

Heavy metals are a bunch of naturally occurring metallic components within the Earth’s crust with comparatively excessive densities, at the least 5 instances larger than water. Whereas many of those pure components are important to life, some could be poisonous or toxic at low concentrations. Due to this fact, we must always do our greatest to reduce publicity as a lot as doable.

Lead has been probably the most talked-about heavy metals in ingesting water following the Flint water disaster. Nevertheless, lead isn’t the one participant within the poisonous and harmful recreation of heavy steel contamination of ingesting water. Different extensively recognized contributors embody arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and chromium. Much less generally, metals together with iron, copper, zinc, aluminum, beryllium, cobalt, manganese, and arsenic could also be thought-about heavy metals.

How Heavy Metals Get into Consuming Water

Thousands and thousands of People are uncovered to heavy metals every day by means of their ingesting water. EWG knowledge reveals that arsenic was detected in water utilities serving 108 million People between 2017 and 2019. Throughout that very same interval, cadmium and inorganic mercury had been present in utilities serving 7 million and 6.3 million folks, respectively. Many different discoveries have been made (far too many to checklist right here), however this leaves us with one essential query: How did these components get into ingesting water within the first place?

Even when water begins freed from heavy metals on the supply, it may be contaminated on its solution to the faucet. Based on the EPA, family plumbing and repair traces, mining operations, petroleum refineries, electronics producers, municipal waste disposal, cement vegetation, and pure mineral deposits can leach heavy metals into the water because it journeys to your own home. Heavy metals can contaminate personal wells by means of groundwater motion and floor water seepage and run-off.

What’s Bioaccumulation?

Heavy metals are vital well being hazards due to their attribute of bioaccumulating in our our bodies. Bioaccumulation is the gradual buildup of chemical substances – or metals, on this case – over time in dwelling organisms. Primarily, the organism takes within the chemical substance quicker than the organism can expel it, or the organism can not totally metabolize (break down) the substances it ingests.

Heavy metals are distributed across the physique by means of the blood once they enter the physique. Relying on the metals’ properties, they could accumulate in particular physique components, reminiscent of tissues (for instance, nervous and fatty tissue), bones, tooth, organs (such because the kidneys, liver, and mind), or substances produced within the physique reminiscent of breast milk.

As soon as the metals are absorbed, the physique can not catabolize or excrete them shortly sufficient. Fatty mammary tissue usually comprises the very best concentrations of poisonous metals, which may then go to infants when nursing.

Bioaccumulation of Heavy Metals in People

We’re all topic to bioaccumulation from consuming contaminated aquatic organisms or publicity to heavy metals in our meals, air, or water. Along with bioaccumulating, heavy metals don’t biodegrade, which implies they will final for a really very long time in our our bodies with out breaking down.

The Flint, Michigan lead contamination in 2014 is a traditional instance of a well being scare ensuing from the bioaccumulation of heavy metals. The disaster occurred after the town switched its main water supply to the Flint River. Sadly, its water remedy techniques had been ill-equipped to deal with a extremely corrosive water provide. The Flint River water was so corrosive that it brought about result in leach from the town’s outdated lead pipes into the water provide after the water had already handed by means of the remedy amenities.

Lead contaminated the native ingesting water provides, exposing tens of 1000’s of Flint residents to harmful concentrations. Over time, folks started ingesting the steel by means of ingesting water and different routes, inflicting it to construct up within the physique. The bioaccumulation brought about an array of antagonistic well being issues, together with lead poisoning in kids, reproductive points in girls, and so forth.

Bioaccumulation of Heavy Metals in Marine Organisms

Aquatic organisms, like fish, are particularly prone to bioaccumulation as a result of they take up contaminants from the water round them quicker than their our bodies can excrete them. For instance, when mercury enters waterways and lakes by means of industrial processes, fish and shellfish take up it instantly from the atmosphere. Though they could solely take up small quantities at a time, the mercury can stay within the fish’s physique for months and even longer. This results in mercury build up or bioaccumulating within the fish’s physique, posing a hazard to any organism (together with people) that eats the fish.

An instance of an environmental catastrophe involving heavy metals – particularly mercury – occurred in 1932 in Japan. Sewage containing mercury was launched into Minamata Bay. The mercury amassed within the marine life, ultimately resulting in mercury poisoning within the inhabitants. The mercury poisoning was so extreme that it brought about folks to develop a neurological syndrome known as Minamata illness.

Well being Results of Heavy Metallic Publicity

Heavy metals can have dire penalties for the well being of people when ingested. The results are particularly dangerous to infants, younger kids, folks with weakened immune techniques, and the aged. Many heavy metals play a task in most cancers growth or trigger inner injury, even at low concentrations.

We’ve outlined a number of heavy metals generally detected in ingesting water and summarized their recognized well being results.


Though arsenic is taken into account a metalloid, it could possibly produce the identical degree of toxicity as heavy metals. Arsenic publicity could cause a broad vary of antagonistic well being issues, together with lung and pores and skin most cancers, decreased IQ, nervous system points, respiratory issues, and even loss of life in excessive doses.

Be taught extra: The 12 Most Harmful Contaminants Present in America’s Water Provide


Lead is without doubt one of the most harmful heavy metals detected in ingesting water, even at low doses. When ingested over time, it could possibly accumulate within the physique and have a number of poisonous results in your bones, mind, kidneys, and liver. It could additionally trigger anemia, reproductive points, and renal impairment. Youngsters are particularly susceptible to the dangerous results of lead poisoning. Early childhood lead publicity can decrease a baby’s IQ, negatively influence their habits, and end in lifelong disabilities.

Be taught extra: How Lead in Water Impacts Youngsters and Adults


Mercury and its compounds have an effect on the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver. They will additionally disturb immune processes, trigger tremors, impaired imaginative and prescient and listening to, paralysis, insomnia, and emotional instability. Extra usually, mercury poisoning builds up over time. Nevertheless, a sudden onset of those signs might point out acute toxicity.


Initially present in rechargeable batteries, cameras, cell phones, and different on a regular basis electronics, cadmium can stay within the human physique for many years as soon as ingested. Lengthy-term publicity to this steel is linked to renal dysfunction, bone defects, and lung illness, which can ultimately turn out to be lung most cancers.


Whereas manganese is a necessary nutrient within the physique, publicity to excessive concentrations over a few years is related to forgetfulness, hallucinations, and injury to the nervous system. Manganese may also trigger Parkinson’s, lung embolism, and bronchitis. When males are uncovered to manganese for longer, they could turn out to be impotent.


Like manganese, small quantities of copper are important to our well being. Nevertheless, an excessive amount of of it could possibly trigger abdomen cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, particularly in younger kids. Copper has additionally been linked to liver and kidney illness.


Chromium is a harmful carcinogen, which means it could possibly trigger most cancers. Folks uncovered to excessive ranges of chromium usually tend to undergo lung, nasal sinus, and different cancers. Chromium can be linked to male infertility, stunted growth in kids, pores and skin and eye irritation, bronchial asthma, nasal ulcers, convulsions, acute gastroenteritis, and injury to the liver and kidneys.

Be taught extra: 7 Potential Most cancers-Inflicting Contaminants in Faucet Water


The most typical symptom of nickel publicity is pores and skin irritation. Roughly 10-20% of People are delicate to nickel and should expertise a rash or different dermal irritation after showering or bathing with nickel-tainted water. Nevertheless, in excessive doses, nickel can enhance the danger of most cancers in people. Decrease doses can result in decreased lung operate and allergic reactions.


Though present analysis and literature stay inconclusive, aluminum has been tied to varied neurological issues, together with Parkinson’s illness, Lou Gehrig’s illness (ALS), and Alzheimer’s illness. On the much less extreme facet, publicity to aluminum could have milder, shorter-lived signs, together with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, pores and skin ulcers, pores and skin rashes, and arthritic ache.

Testing Your Consuming Water for Heavy Metals

Although these well being results may appear horrifying, there are a couple of easy methods to find out if any heavy metals or different contaminants are lurking in your ingesting water.

As we talked about earlier, lead isn’t the one heavy steel that may very well be in your faucet water. It could additionally comprise different heavy metals, reminiscent of mercury, arsenic, and copper, and environmental pollution, like prescribed drugs, herbicides, and pesticides. It might even be tainted with poisonous chemical substances, reminiscent of PFAS, chlorine, and chloramine.

You could find out what particular contaminants are in your water by looking out on-line for a Water High quality Report in your space or contacting your native authorities. It’s also possible to buy a water check package and get your water evaluated for contamination by an authorized laboratory. You’ll then have to discover a water filter system that removes the heavy metals and different contaminants that may negatively have an effect on your well being or the style of the water.

Find out how to Filter Heavy Metals from Consuming Water

Reverse osmosis (RO) filtration is without doubt one of the handiest remedy applied sciences for eradicating heavy metals from water. RO water filters can deal with many heavy metals in water, reminiscent of chromium, copper, lead, and arsenic.

RO expertise makes use of added strain to push water by means of a semipermeable membrane, blocking pollution bigger than 0.0001 micrometers from passing by means of. Removing charges rely upon a number of elements, together with the post- and pre-treatment steps, however RO removing efficiencies are excessive for metals, with upwards of 99.4% removing for metals like cadmium and copper.

Our under-counter point-of-use RO water filter techniques are the proper options for filtering heavy metals reminiscent of lead, fluoride, and arsenic from water. They match completely below nearly any measurement kitchen sink, delivering clear, wholesome water each time you activate the faucet and as much as 75 gallons per day.

Be taught extra: The Greatest Water Filtration Techniques for Your House

Last Ideas

Metals are throughout us. They’re current in air, soil, meals, water, and even our our bodies. Whereas many of those metals are important to our well being in small doses, repeated publicity could cause them to construct up in our our bodies by means of bioaccumulation.

The bioaccumulation of heavy metals in people can result in varied antagonistic well being issues, together with most cancers, diabetes, neurological points, and injury to the nervous system, to call a couple of. Fortunately, it’s simple to find out if faucet water comprises these contaminants. You possibly can both test your water high quality report for latest contamination or ship a water pattern out of your faucet to an authorized laboratory for testing.

In case your water comprises heavy metals, we suggest putting in a reverse osmosis filter to remove them, thereby defending your self and your loved ones from any hazard they could pose.

To be taught extra about how reverse osmosis filters can take away heavy metals and different pollution from water and cut back the danger of bioaccumulation, our staff of water specialists is all the time right here to help.

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