What is the global prevalence of heavy metal toxicity?

Updated: Dec 31, 2020
  • Author: Adefris Adal, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Sage W Wiener, MD  more...
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Heavy metal toxicity has emerged as a significant occupational hazard associated with electronics recycling in China and South East Asia. Much of the recycling industry there takes place within the informal sector, and the use of personal protective equipment (eg, respirators) is poorly regulated and uncommon.

Large-scale epidemics of lead poisoning were reported in China in 2009, involving more than 2000 children living near smelting plants and sparking riots. [20, 21] The true prevalence of lead poisoning in childhood worldwide is not well understood. Availability of leaded gasoline, paint, cosmetics, and piping in many lower income countries suggests that there is a significant if under-recognized burden of toxicity.

Studies of street dust in Chinese cities have found elevated levels of heavy metals in street dust. These have included cadmium, chromium, and arsenic posing potential risk of carcinogenicity. [22]

Chronic arsenic toxicity is epidemic in Bangladesh and contiguous areas of the Indian subcontinent, where arsenic is an important component of bedrock. Deep tube wells constructed to provide an alternative water source to bacteriologically suspect surface deposits frequently supply water with a high arsenic content, with major public health consequences for the region.

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