7 Ways to Reduce Exposure to Arsenic, Lead and Mercury
Updated: May 4
While it's true that governments around the world have already begun to take action against the use of arsenic, mercury and lead, it's also true that these toxic heavy metals have already seeped into the ground around us and worked their way into our food chains.
All three of these heavy metals are highly toxic to human health and cause a very wide range of detrimental effects on our bodies, especially in young children. Some of these health problems only occur at high levels of exposure but almost all of them are life-changing.
And the thing is with heavy metals, they stick around in our bodies for a very long time. Every time you are exposed the levels will continue to rise, which means high exposure is slow in coming, but inevitable.
How are you exposed?
Arsenic, lead and mercury have been used for many years across many different industries. We've created products including light bulbs, jet fuel, paints and glass.
Arsenic is all over our fields and seeps into our soil,
We still use arsenic compounds to make paints, dyes, soaps, special glass and even some of the drugs from your pharmacy,
Arsenic is often found in our seafood (surprisingly, however, it's less toxic) and drinking water.
A primary source of exposure is often still found to be lead paint in older homes and buildings, especially in young children. The dust from this paint also contaminates general house dust and also seeps into the soil when it's blown outside,
Drinking water is easily contaminated with lead through old pipes,
Smelters pour out clouds of toxic fumes and lead is often found deeply seeped into the grounds for miles around them,
It's possible for people working with lead to bring it home on their shoes and clothing, contaminating their homes and exposing their families,
Lead is still found in a wide range of consumer products, including components for cars and trucks, specialty paints, hair dyes and shockingly, candy.
Mercury is basically everywhere. Or, at least anywhere we burn diesel or jet fuel in our millions of aeroplanes. These processes release mercury into the atmosphere, which then disperses and settles on land and in the oceans. This is then condensed in the very plants and animals that we eat every day,
We also release a lot of mercury into the atmosphere through power plants that burn coal, waste disposal (especially medical items), oil refineries and even your local dental office,
Manufacturers of several kinds of every day consumer products also contain mercury. Think thermometers, certain light bulbs, thermostats, electrical fixings and again, even your dental products. It's true that mercury is being phased out for some consumer products, and this is a good thing, but all of those unused items will go to waste, which means more mercury in our environment,
When you eat fish there is a very high chance that you're ingesting methylmercury. This is a toxic type of mercury that is produced by bacteria present in the waters. The methylmercury builds up in the bodies of fish and settles there until you eat it, and then it settles in your body.
Can you reduce your exposure
These heavy metals are all around us pretty much all of the time, but fortunately there are several ways you can avoid coming into contact with them when eating out, decorating your home or out shopping for every day supplies.
Avoid these herbicides - Weeds are everywhere and many of them are invasive and will kill your nice flower or herb garden. A great way to keep back these invaders is to use a herbicide but many of the products available contain arsenic.
Check out the list of ingredients next time you buy a herbicide and put it back if it contains cacodylic acid, calcium acid, methanearsonate, or monosodium methanearsonate.
Avoid amalgam fillings - I'm not sure why anyone would still use amalgam fillings that contain mercury, and if you do, you should absolutely inform your dentist you want a composite dental filling instead.
Check your medicines - Many drugs, home remedies and cosmetics contain some or all of these heavy metals. Make sure you question your doctor on his choice of prescription and ask him to go over the ingredients list with you.
It's important to avoid medicines that contain these metals, especially if the medicine is for your children.
Check the 'ingredients' before you buy - You should do this for pretty much everything. It's important to know what you are putting inside your body and many manufacturers won't care that one or several of there ingredients may over time cause problems.
Many of these ingredients are used to preserve an item or because they're needed for a certain chemical reaction, but there are alternatives that are free of arsenic, mercury or lead.
I'm talking about thermostats and thermometers, decorating and art supplies, or fluorescent light-bulbs and solders, amongst others. When these products go to waste they are destroyed and release their heavy metals into the environment.
Don't buy PVC - There are still hundreds of products out there that are made from PVC and it often contains lead. Think about all of your children's toys, lunchboxes. Yes, even the teething toys for your littlest one. There are now alternatives to many types of PVC products, but if you still have old ones lying around it's likely they contain lead, especially if they were painted.
Flush your water pipes - This one may seem like a waste of water but it's the best way of avoiding drinking lead-filled water. Imagine all the time that water is sat in those pipes just waiting for you to open the valve. All that time spent absorbing traces of lead. Running the tap until it becomes as cold as it can before drinking it will reduce your lead intake significantly. You should do the same thing if you're using tap water in your cooking too.
Fish carefully - Many of the fish we eat contain mercury but there are several varieties contain less, enough so it's not too bad to eat them. If you fish yourself, it's important to check out the water bodies content before you eat the fish you catch.
Next time you eat seafood try eating pacific oysters, wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, farmed striped bass, Atlantic herring, Pacific cod, farmed catfish or Dungeness crab. All of these are deemed low in mercury and safer to eat.
You should avoid high risk fish like orange roughy, marlin, king mackerel and you should cut down on eating tuna steaks or canned fish.
If you're worried that you and your family may be exposed to high concentrations of heavy metals, you can take the new COSHH Risk Assessor Certification™ where I will teach you how to identify the risks and implement the correct control measures.