Metals that are potentially toxic are known as heavy metals, which include mercury, lead, iron, bismuth, cadmium and thallium. Arsenic, which is a non-metal but exhibits metallic properties, may also result in poisoning.
Heavy metals are elements characterized by their relatively high densities, typically five times greater than the density of water. These chemicals and their derivative compounds pose serious health hazards due to their inherent toxicity in higher concentrations.
Heavy metals can be assimilated into the body through ingestion, inhalation and skin penetration. When these metals are not metabolized, they cause a build-up in the soft tissues, eventually leading to organ damage and possibly death. The severity of the effects of heavy metal poisoning depend on several factors, including age, type of metal absorbed and whether exposure is chronic or acute.
In the United States, the most common causes of heavy metal poisoning involve lead, iron, mercury and arsenic, as reported by the National Capital Poison Center. Lead poisoning primarily affects neurological functions in children, often resulting in hearing loss, learning impairments and behavioral deviations. In adults, hypertension and renal problems generally develop. Iron poisoning is common in children and damages the abdominal tract, where ingestion of large quantities lead to vomiting and diarrhea mixed with blood. Mercury poisoning comes in various forms and usually causes lung and kidney damage, gastrointestinal complications, exhaustion and weight loss. Some symptoms of arsenic poisoning are excessive vomiting and loose bowel movements. Long term effects include muscular infirmity, dermal lesions and even cancer.