Thallium in the Environment and Health Effects
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Thallium is present in the natural environment in low concentration, being found most frequently in the sulphide ores of a number of heavy metals. Atmospheric emission and deposition from industrial sources has resulted in raised levels in the vicinity of mineral smelters, coal burning power plants, brick works and cement plants. In contaminated areas, raised levels are found in vegetables, fruit and in farm animals. Thallium is used industrially in small quantities, with uses in electronics, in the production of certain glasses and crystals and in medical diagnostics. It has in the past been commonly used as a rodenticide, but its use has now been banned in many countries. Thallium salts are now considered to be amongst the most toxic compounds known. With regard to population exposure, an epidemiological study in an area with high thallium concentrations in soil and garden vegetables centred on a cement plant, has found evidence of a dose response relationship between thallium concentration in urine and a number of non-specific subjective symptoms. Much further research is required to investigate the possible adverse health effects of thallium following population exposure.
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