Tips: Ways to Reduce Toxic Metal Exposure At Home

Exposure to heavy metals -- lead, mercury and arsenic -- at home? Yes, it's possible and through means that might surprise you, from glazed pottery to herbal supplements, the Mayo Clinic states.

While limited exposure to everyday sources of toxic metals isn't likely to result in harmful health effects, it's wise to be aware of them, especially if you encounter heavy metals on a regular basis. Some general symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include loss of feeling, especially in the fingertips; hearing loss; impaired concentration; and personality changes.

The January issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter details how exposure might occur at home.

Lead exposure: Lead can find its way into the body if it's inhaled as dust or fumes, or in the case of small children, inadvertently ingested in the form of old paint chips. Lead-based paint was commonly used in homes built before 1978. Children who ingest flakes of lead-based paint may experience anemia, unexplained stomachaches and developmental delays.

Some tableware, such as leaded crystal, pewter and some glazed pottery, can be a source of lead, even more so if acidic foods or liquids are served from them. Hobbyists who create stained glass or pottery can be at risk. Soldering to create stained glass can produce lead-laden fumes. Pottery glazes with white or yellow finishes can contain lead.

Be aware that small jewelry crafted in China may be made with lead. And be cautious using dietary supplements, especially products originating in China, where lead exposure risks are not as well known.

Mercury exposure: You are most likely to encounter mercury in its organic form, methyl mercury, when eating certain fish or shellfish. Mercury can be especially high in shark, swordfish, tuna, pike, walleye, bass and Atlantic salmon.

Over the years, some have raised questions about mercury in dental fillings. So far, no link has been made between metal dental fillings and changes in the central nervous system.

Arsenic exposure: Garden pesticides and herbicides may contain arsenic. Check the label and always follow instructions. Until recently, arsenic could be found in pressure-treated lumber. If you work with older, treated lumber, take precautions. Wear gloves and a dust mask and work outdoors.

Alternative health treatments: If you take any homeopathic, herbal or complementary health products, be aware there is no government oversight on what these products might contain. It's possible they could include heavy metals.

If you have concerns about exposure to heavy metals, talk to your doctor. Blood and other tests can help determine if your levels are in a toxic range.

For additional information about lead, mercury and arsenic can be found at EPA's Prevention, Pesticide and Toxic Substance Web page at http://www.epa.gov/oppts.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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