Heavy Metal Toxicity and the Environment

  • Paul B. TchounwouEmail author
  • Clement G. Yedjou
  • Anita K. Patlolla
  • Dwayne J. Sutton
Part of the Experientia Supplementum book series (EXS, volume 101)


Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that have a high atomic weight and a density at least five times greater than that of water. Their multiple industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical, and technological applications have led to their wide distribution in the environment, raising concerns over their potential effects on human health and the environment. Their toxicity depends on several factors including the dose, route of exposure, and chemical species, as well as the age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of exposed individuals. Because of their high degree of toxicity, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury rank among the priority metals that are of public health significance. These metallic elements are considered systemic toxicants that are known to induce multiple organ damage, even at lower levels of exposure. They are also classified as human carcinogens (known or probable) according to the US Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. This review provides an analysis of their environmental occurrence, production and use, potential for human exposure, and molecular mechanisms of toxicity, genotoxicity, and carcinogenicity.


Carcinogenicity Genotoxicity Heavy metals Human exposure Production and use Toxicity 



This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health RCMI Grant No. 2G12RR013459 and in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ECSC Grant No. NA06OAR4810164 and Subcontract No. 000953.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul B. Tchounwou
    • 1
    Email author
  • Clement G. Yedjou
    • 1
  • Anita K. Patlolla
    • 1
  • Dwayne J. Sutton
    • 1
  1. 1.NIH-RCMI Center for Environmental Health, College of Science, Engineering and TechnologyJackson State UniversityJacksonUSA

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