EESA10 - Ch 5 + Lecture 5.doc

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Environmental Science
Silvija Stefanovic

Lecture 5: Heavy Metals and Human Health Heavy Metals We say that heavy metals are all elements that have metallic characteristics but they also have a very high atomic weight number one definition is based on atomic weight The second definition says that it is based on the density of the element density of elemental forms of these metal They say that all elements that have density higher than 7g/cm3 belong to this group Some other scientists say that this is not true we are going to base this definition on a specific gravity We actually dont know or dont agree with what heavy metals are and not only that Some elements known as metalloids (not really truly metals) Arsenic is it doesnt have full characteristics but we still consider arsenic as a heavy metal There is another term that is very often used and seen in literature; this is known as trace elements It is different than metals trace elements can be any element found in environment of lower concentration (very low sometimes hard to detect) For us here in our class and for most of the people heavy metals are toxic only elements that are toxic based on their toxicity Where can we find them? They are coming from the ground part of normal geological ground core of the planet We humans extract them as ore and mine them as ore and then extract them from the ore in different forms sometimes in a pure form or sometimes as a salt and incorporate them as different kinds of products After that, when we mine them, use them for some products, that product will finish their life cycle and possibly can be reused or can be deposited if some depositions occur again under the ground This closed circle of metals before metal finished circle it is very widely spread everywhere in water, environment, food, air Most of them are toxic especially in some certain concentrations because every metal is toxic in some concentration (some of them in extremely low concentrations) They affect different types of organs and accumulate in certain parts of our body selected tissues Classification of metals There are 3 basic groupings of the metals First is class A not very toxic, low toxicity (i.e. K, Na, Mg, ,Ca, Al), are essential elements for plants, for us, they contribute to many physiological processes in our body and they are needed in significant amounts (that is why we call them macronutrients) and are essential These elements tend to form ionic bond; are usually positively charged Other class is class B is very toxic (i.e. Hg, Ti, Pb, Ag, Au), these elements are not essential (we dont need them for any process in our body), they just can interfere with the processes in our body and cause some adverse effects They have high electron negativity (opposite from class A), tendency to acquire electrons, form a covalent bond (form pairs of electrons) Third class are metals that we call borderline (somewhere in between these two) All of them are micronutrients they are necessary for many physiological processes in our body including plants (i.e. Cr, Cu, As, Co, Ni, Zn, Mn, Fe) Toxicity: class B is the most toxic, then borderline, then class A is least toxicMechanism of toxicity 1) Metal is attached to protein that means that protein can carry anything because the essential functional groups that need to attach hormone or something else are already satisfied with the metal Protein can carry anything means that proteins function is blocked 2) Especially for class B and borderline is that instead of some necessary metal important for our physiological processes some other toxic metals from class B or borderline is attached 3) Changing molecule some organic compound such as biomolecule twisting that molecule changing the conformation of molecule means that new molecule will be like what you see in the mirror (different conformation) Coping Mechanisms Class B metals are really harmful for humans how do we cope with this? Not just humans, plants, other organisms cope with this First is resistance, simply do not uptake the metal (humans do not have this function, mechanism) Some of the plants have a great mechanism to resist and even to uptake the metals (i.e. Pb, will grow acceptably well on some soils) What we do have is tolerance to some chemicals There are two groups of chemicals being threshold and non-threshold chemicals Threshold means that in a very low concentration we can tolerate them without experiencing any adverse affects Non-threshold means that just in very low concentration already we are going to experience some adverse affects Can happen by metabolizing some of these chemicals, that is also a possibility can metabolize part of the meta
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