Detoxification 5: Remove Heavy Metals in Water, Air and Food

1) Reduce MERCURY:

  • Avoid high mercury seafood
  • Remove dental amalgams in a safe manner
  • Detoxify heavy metals in a safe, slow and gentle manner
  • Avoid mercury-containing amalgams for cavities
  • Avoid CFL mercury contamination in your home
  • Avoid herbs from Asia with mercury and arsenic
  • How to reduce your mercury exposure if you live near a coal-burning power plant.

2) Reduce Lead:

  • Watch for lead paint. If you live in a home built before 1978, it is likely to contain lead-based paint. If the paint is chipping, peeling, or otherwise deteriorating, or if you want to remodel, hire a certified abatement worker to remove or contain contaminated paint. Use door mats, remove shoes at the door, and vacuum and clean regularly to reduce lead that accumulates in house dust.
  • Protect drinking water. Avoid exposure to lead that may be leaching from plumbing by flushing your cold water pipes (run water until it becomes as cold as it will get) before drinking, and only use cold water for drinking or cooking.
  • Avoid PVC. Choose alternatives to products made of PVC, which often contain lead, especially for items that are likely to come into direct contact with children’s hands and mouths, such as toys, teethers, and lunchboxes. Old toys and furniture made prior to 1978 may also contain lead-based paint. For consumer product safety information and recalls for lead products, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website.
  • Watch for lead in dishware. Do not use old, imported, or homemade ceramic dishware, unless you know that the glazes do not contain lead. Avoid leaded crystal, as well as imported food cans, which can contain lead solder.
  • Check paints and art supplies. Also avoid lead solder and artists’ paints and glazes that contain lead. Information on some products containing these ingredients is available from the Household Products Database.

3) Reduce Arsenic:

  • Skip herbicides with arsenic. Avoid arsenic-containing herbicides, which have ingredients listed as monosodium methanearsonate (MSMA), calcium acid methanearsonate, or cacodylic acid.
  • Remove treated wood. Remove wood treated with the preservatives CCA or ACZA, which contain arsenic. If removing arsenic-treated wood is not an option, you can paint or seal the wood to reduce leaching and contact exposure. Choose semi-transparent deck stains for deck surfaces and play structures, and latex paint for fences, tables, and other furniture. Reapply the coating when it shows signs of deterioration.
  • Make sure herbs, if used, are free of arsenic: See “Herbs from India and China with toxic arsenic”

 

Appendix A Mercury:

Be aware that mercury can cause learning difficulties, tremors and many other subtle symptoms. Children with above-average mercury exposures have learning difficulties.

Common Health Effects   (some occur only at high exposure levels)

blindness and deafness brain damage
digestive problems
kidney damage
lack of coordination
mental retardation

Exposure:

  • Mercury is in our air from the combustion of diesel, jet fuel, and heating oil. It deposits on land and water, then concentrates in the food chain.
  • Mercury is also emitted by  coal-burning power plants, and by manufacturers, oil refineries, medical waste disposal facilities, dental offices, and cremation facilities.
  • When mercury gets into water, bacteria convert it to toxic methylmercury, which builds up in fish. When we eat fish that contain mercury, it tags along and settles in our bodies.
  • Mercury is in many consumer products, including: fluorescent light bulbs, electrical fixtures, auto switches, thermostats, medical equipment, and dental amalgam fillings.
  • Beware the “green” fad of using CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights): They contain mercury, and they will leak the mercury out if they are broken during use or during disposal.

Solutions:

Avoid paints containing mercury compounds, which are still found in some paints as pigments.

Make sure herbs, if used, are free of mercury: See “Herbs from India and China with toxic mercury”

  • “Push for mercury-cleaning scrubbers in power plants”
  • “Push for reducing dental office mercury discharge into wastewater”

Be aware that Tampa Electric and Duke Power VOLUNTARILY installed “scrubbers” that remove a large amount of the toxic mercury (and other pollutants) from their smokestack emissions. More plants need to follow this courageous and moral lead.

King County, Washington has had tremendous success in reducing mercury pollution from dental offices by cracking down on dentists to keep mercury out of their wastewater. Mercury in dental offices comes from amalgam fillings, which are about half mercury by weight. State law requires dentists to use devices called separators, which remove mercury from wastewater, but compliance in the past has been poor. By conducting inspections and threatening fines, King County was able to achieve 97% compliance and a 50% reduction in mercury in wastewater between 2000 and 2003 (King County 2005).

 

2) Lead: Lead and mercury exact their most devastating toll on the developing brain. Children exposed to lead at a young age are more likely to suffer from shorter attention spans and are less able to read and learn than their peers. Human bones have been studies and show dramatically higher and higher levels of lead since the industrial revolution began.

Common Health Effects   (some occur only at high exposure levels)

behavioral problems
high blood pressure, anemia
kidney damage
memory and learning difficulties
miscarriage, decreased sperm production
reduced IQ

Exposure:

  • Lead is in frighteningly large array of consumer products, from art supplies and automobile components to specialty paints, some hair dyes, and even candy.
  • PVC products often contain lead.
  • Gasoline and paint are now lead-free in the U.S. and many other countries. But despite a 1978 ban, lead paint on the walls of older homes and buildings continues to be a primary source of lead exposure for children. In certain areas and homes, lead from paint contaminates soil and house dust too.
  • Drinking water can contain lead that leaches out of pipes.
  • Some soils are contaminated with lead from smelters (facilities that process metals) or past use of the pesticide lead arsenate in orchards.
  • Workers exposed to lead on the job can bring it home on clothing and shoes, exposing their family members.

Solutions:

Watch for lead paint. If you live in a home built before 1978, it is likely to contain lead-based paint. If the paint is chipping, peeling, or otherwise deteriorating, or if you want to remodel, hire a certified abatement worker to remove or contain contaminated paint. Use door mats, remove shoes at the door, and vacuum and clean regularly to reduce lead that accumulates in house dust.

Protect drinking water. Avoid exposure to lead that may be leaching from plumbing by flushing your cold water pipes (run water until it becomes as cold as it will get) before drinking, and only use cold water for drinking or cooking.

Avoid PVC. Choose alternatives to products made of PVC, which often contain lead, especially for items that are likely to come into direct contact with children’s hands and mouths, such as toys, teethers, and lunchboxes. Old toys and furniture made prior to 1978 may also contain lead-based paint. For consumer product safety information and recalls for lead products, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website.

Watch for lead in dishware. Do not use old, imported, or homemade ceramic dishware, unless you know that the glazes do not contain lead. Avoid leaded crystal, as well as imported food cans, which can contain lead solder.

Check paints and art supplies. Also avoid lead solder and artists’ paints and glazes that contain lead. Information on some products containing these ingredients is available from the Household Products Database.

3) Arsenic: Recent studies also suggest that arsenic can harm the developing brain.

Common Health Effects   (some occur only at high exposure levels)

breathing problems
death if exposed to high levels
decreased intelligence
known human carcinogen: lung and skin cancer
nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
peripheral nervous system problems

Exposure:

  • Until 2002, arsenic compounds were used to treat wood to prevent rot. The arsenic leaches out into soil and rubs off the wood on to people or animals.
  • Arsenic is also in the soil from smelters and some pesticides.
  • Arsenic compounds are still used to make special glass, semi-conductors (gallium arsenide), some paints, dyes, metals, soaps, and drugs.
  • Seafood can contain arsenic (although in a less-toxic form), as does drinking water in some locations.

Skip herbicides with arsenic. Avoid arsenic-containing herbicides, which have ingredients listed as monosodium methanearsonate (MSMA), calcium acid methanearsonate, or cacodylic acid.

Remove treated wood. Remove wood treated with the preservatives CCA or ACZA, which contain arsenic. If removing arsenic-treated wood is not an option, you can paint or seal the wood to reduce leaching and contact exposure. Choose semi-transparent deck stains for deck surfaces and play structures, and latex paint for fences, tables, and other furniture. Reapply the coating when it shows signs of deterioration.

Make sure herbs, if used, are free of arsenic: See “Herbs from India and China with toxic arsenic”

Other recommendations:

The following actions would reduce ongoing exposure to these toxic heavy metals:

  • Lead, mercury, and arsenic should be phased out of products.
  • Coal burning should be replaced with conservation and cleaner sources of fuel for energy production. In the meantime, existing coal-fired power plants should be required to install the best technology to limit mercury emissions.
  • Contaminated sites should be cleaned up promptly and fully. Where a large geographic area is contaminated, state government should take measures to ensure facilities such as schools and day care centers are not sited on contaminated soil.
  • Solid-waste and medical-waste incinerators should be shut down and replaced with waste and toxicity reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting programs.
  • Health care facilities, including hospitals and dental offices, should phase out mercury-containing products in favor of safer alternatives.
  • Government agencies should expand programs to remove, collect, and safely store mercury from thermostats, thermometers, and switches.
  • School districts should take remedial action to eliminate lead exposure to children from school drinking water.

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