Lead, Mercury and Other Environmental Toxins

Paul L. Reller L.Ac. / Last Updated: August 03, 2017

Many patients with a neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson's, Alzheimers, etc. are told that understanding the causes of their health problem is complex and difficult to pinpoint, but that probably environmental contaminants such as lead and mercury have played a significant role. The patient would like to understand where this lead and mercury comes from in their experience, and how to eliminate it. The answer is complex, but much can be done to address heavy metal toxicity in the environment for our children and future generations, which mainly comes from air pollution.

Often, ill-informed and misleading information is presented, implying that these neurologically damaging toxic contaminants are primarily coming from your tap water, eating fish, dental fillings, lead paint, vaccinations etc., and not revealing the actual sources of organic mercury, lead and other heavy metals in your environment. Of course, tuna and tapwater are sources, but eliminating these from your diet will not completely stop this problem, as these toxic heavy metal compounds are now in our air, accumulating in our water sources, entering our food, and accumulating in our bodies. The important issues involve both stopping the pollution and clearing heavy metal toxins from the body (chelation). Understanding the complete picture of these environmental issues will help you to take appropriate actions to protect yourself and your children's children from neurodegenerative and other diseases, as well as friends and neighbors. To see a clear and concise documentation of this problem from the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, just click here: https://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Global-Warming/NWF-Mercury-Power-Plant-Factsheet_March2011.ashx . We clearly see that decades of delay in removing the main source of toxic forms of organic and methylmercury compounds, dirty coal-fired power plants, has led to devastating public health injury. While no medical doctor will probably diagnose mercury and lead toxicity as a cause of symptoms, intelligent patients are beginning to understand the scope of this problem.

Besides neurodegenerative diseases, heavy metal toxicity from organic lead and mercury compounds also contributes heavily to cardiovascular disease, immune and endocrine dysfunctions, pancreatic beta cell damage, chronic kidney disease and other organ disorders, as well as cancers and obesity. Other heavy metal toxins, such as arsenic, cadmium and chromium are also a concern, and now largely come from improper techniques in deep fracturing drilling for oil and gas (fracking), as well as the disregard for proper elimination and storage of byproducts of dirty coal processing. Stopping this form of pollution will not only reduce a variety of devastating diseases, but will drastically reduce future health care spending, help to solve the federal deficit, and keep medicare solvent. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the initial federal regulation to demand safer and cleaner fracking methodology by the Obama administration was not constitutional and required an Act of Congress to achieve this goal. The public, especially Republicans, need to speak up and demand these regulations, requiring the use of safer technologies to protect public health and our children. This article will first present the facts of lead and mercury pollution and the health hazards, and then present some therapeutic ways that you can build an effective and complete protocol to both relieve symptoms and perhaps reduce the toxicity in your bodies. Understanding the problem is the first step in solving it, not only for yourself, but for your children, parents, neighbors, and all of the good people suffering from these diseases and disorders.

In 2003, the CERCLA (U.S. Superfund, or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) priority list of hazardous environmental substances listed a top 20 hazardous health concerns, with Arsenic, Lead and Mercury at the top, and Cadmium listed 7th. In 2002, the UIPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry), though, stated that continuing to describe this environmental toxicity in terms of "heavy metals" and 'toxic metals' is not scientific, and that a more scientific terminology needs to be developed to record and regulate such environmental threat. The reality is that heavy metal toxicity is defined by level or concentration in an individual body, the type of metal compound, absorption and accumulation, and the potential biochemical effects from specific types of metal compounds, and cannot be dumbed down to just "heavy metal". One type of lead in the environment, certain types of mercury and cadmium compounds, are much more dangerous to our health than others, and the ignoring of this fact is just neurotic. We need to clearly identify which types of metal toxins are most harmful, and concentrate on eliminating these, and creating ways to specifically help our bodies to eliminate them, or at least protect ourselves from specific ill effects. A more thoughtful and holistic approach is needed. This has been hampered by a very complex effort to avoid bad press, government regulation, and liability on the part of corporations and industries that are creating this enormous health threat. Actual human beings that work in these industries need to step up and take responsibility.

We must also be concerned by other chemicals on this CERCLA priority list, which includes chromium, PCBs, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, DDT, and trichlorethylene, some of which may combine with these toxins we call heavy metal toxins, and work symbiotically with them to cause serious chronic diseases. Studies have shown that a dramatic increase in accumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons with lead and mercury in the earth occurred after the expansion of coal burning around 1850, and did not decrease with the decline of coal burning after 1950 in Europe and the U.S. Some of this was due to these compounds increasing in the air globally with the industrialization of much of the rest of the world. Studies have shown that the most hazardous heavy metal toxins, lead, mercury and cadmium, combine with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the burning of coal and other industrial processes, and affect how the body responds to them. This science is complex, and determining that specific symptoms and diseases are clearly related to these toxicities is a complex equation, not a simple problem. What we need to realize is that there are healthy treatment protocols to pursue whenever such toxicity is suspected, and that we all need to be more aware and informed to further effective regulation and decrease toxicity in the environment.

How much of a concern is organic mercury toxicity in the environment? In 2009, more than 140 countries agreed to negotiate a legally binding treaty aimed at slashing the use and creation of mercury in industry with the goal of finally reducing the enormous public exposure to a toxin that hampers childhood brain development, contributes heavily to neurodegenerative diseases, and is associated with a wide variety of chronic disorders, including autoimmune dysfunctions, cancer, asthma and diabetes. Studies have shown that the level of organic methylmercury in fetal brain tissues is 1.7 to 4.8 times that of the level in the blood of a pregnant female, and that the level in breast milk compared to the blood level is 1:20, presenting a clear health threat. The United Nations stated that this treaty should be ready to sign by 2013, and by the beginning of 2016, Japan became the 23rd country to ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury, out of 128 signatories. Like the Kyoto Protocol, support from the United States, which means public support, is vital to such a treaty, and while the U.S. signed an agreement in 2013, the Congress itself has still not actually ratified the agreement. The Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Mercury Seventh Session (INC7) is scheduled to take place in March of 2016, in Jordan, one of the ratifiers of the Minamata Convention, and the international agreement to curtail mercury toxicity is proceeding slowly. Other tactics, such as agreements in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) establish agreed standards and trade sanctions related to mercury toxicity standards, but international agreement is still very difficult to achieve. Where does the overwhelming majority of mercury toxicity come from? Dirty coal-fired power plants, smelters, chloralkili production of chlorine, manufacture of Portland Cement, mining, and natural gas drilling with fracturing of the shale and rock layers deep in the earth are the areas of concern. These are global sources and require global efforts to curtail them, decreasing the amount of harmful organic mercury in our air.

Even accumulation of methylmercury in waters is shown to be increasingly attributed to atmospheric organic mercury. A large and extensive study of the San Francisco Bay estuary, one of the most mercury polluted waterways in the world, surrounded by one of the largest urban populations, which will soon reach 20 million people, showed that atmospheric organic mercury contributes to at least a third of the mercury accumulation. While a history of sources, such as extensive naval shipbuilding, gold mining, and other industrial sources, have contributed much inorganic mercury to the bay sediment, and this inorganic mercury has been shown to be converted to organic methylmercury by microbial metabolism in the sediment, this study showed that such conversion accounts for a very small percentage of the total accumulation of methylmercury. To truly stop mercury water contamination, we must stop atmospheric mercury, as well as the newest large source, water from fracking that is not properly treated and enters the streams and rivers.

All of these toxic industries could easily adopt safer practices that would significantly reduce organic mercury toxicity in the environment. Why don't these industrial executives adopt these important practices? These lucrative industries make enormous profits and can afford to adopt new technologies. The stubborn and neurotic insistence on devastating harm appears to be perpetuated for no other reason than the fact that the individuals who run these industries can get away with it (and their families and friends do not criticize them). The amount of money spent already on lobbying against such regulation would pay for most of the costs of changing these harmful industrial practices that pour an unbelievable amount of organic mercury into our environment and hurt our children and our aging population. While our press is manipulated into diverting the public attention to mercury preservatives on pills, inert mercury tooth fillings, etc., the actual source of this extremely harmful toxin is largely ignored. The companion to organic mercury toxin is organic lead toxin, found together in an amazing number of tonnes of airborne carbon-based lead and mercury pollution from the above industries. Once again, numerous articles in the press emphasize lead paint and mercury preservative on vaccines as the danger and divert public attention from the real source of threat. It's time the public started to become alarmed and demand change. In the United States, a new redirection in the press and from government has emerged in the form of massive criticism of China, and their industrialization, but concern about developing countries will not solve the massive problems in the United States of America, clearly the leader in industrial pollution.

By 2016, emerging stories of heavy metal toxicity highlighted the fact that we have had the blinders on to this ubiquitous health problem. Alarming lead toxicity in Flint, Michigan was blamed entirely on the switch of water sources and the failure to properly treat the drinking water from the polluted Flint River, apparently causing lead to leach from old pipes due to corrosion, and research in Portland, Oregon by the Forest Service inadvertently found that moss throughout the city was highly contaminated with cadmium and other toxic heavy metals in an organic form, making it very dangerous for the human organism. Both of these sensationalized stories revealed, though, that these problems were not isolated, and the actual sources of the heavy metal toxicity were not limited to these reported sources. After Flint, study found that dangerous levels of lead can be found in many communities in the United States, not just Flint. In fact, studies for over a century have found that lead pipes easily leach lead into the drinking water initially, but over time the natural buildup on these pipes prevents lead from leaching into the water. This is why they were allowed in drinking water systems. In Portland, the cadmium was initially blamed on two small glass making companies, and these companies stopped using cadmium, as well as chromium, in their glass dyes, but it was soon found that many sources for these heavy metal toxins existed.

We are now just discovering the level of accumulation of heavy metals in our environments because new technology has been invented that easily measures it in organic sources. In a March 3, 2016 New York Times article entitled Toxic Moss Sends Shivers Through Portland Residents, a professor of environmental law at the University of Texas at Austin, Wendy Wagner, was quoted: "We are potentially at the tip of an iceberg. With new tools of looking for things that we really haven't looked for before, we're going to be in for some surprises." These 'surprises' will shock us all, as we have been living in a pretend world for some time, while our industries have slowly raised the levels of accumulated organic heavy metal toxins via air pollution, as well as water dumping, to levels that are dangerous for our health and have created an enormous health burden with chronic disease. An emerging threat that has been ubiquitously ignored by all but a few research scientists is the rise in heavy metal toxicity due to the widespread use of glyphosate herbicides that chelate these metal toxins from the soil and deposit them in our waters. In 2014, a joint study by experts at the University of California Long Beach and the Rajarata University School of Medicine, in India, showed that the current crisis of kidney disease in India, Sri Lanka, and other areas of the world where rice farming dominates and glyphosate herbicide has dominated is most likely due to the accumulation of the glyphosate heavy metal complexes in the water. To see this study, just click here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945589/ . Because of this and other studies the use of glyphosate herbicides like RoundUp were banned in these countries, and a number of industry studies published immediately to counter this information. To continue to report that lead poisoning is only due to lead pipes and lead paint is rather remarkable, and we can only assume that the other sources of this now prevalent toxicity are not reported due to industry manipulation of the media.

Patients should not assume that they are unaffected by heavy metal toxicity if they do not have Parkinson's or Alzheimer's diseases. We now know that a wide variety of common health problems are due to neurodegeneration, including attention deficit disorders, glaucoma, etc. This subject is explored more fully on another article on this website. Besides neurodegeneration, these toxicities also present much damage to the healthy functionality of the immune and endocrine systems, liver and kidney function, and contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory pathologies. Recent research is showing how various heavy metal toxins cause or contribute to diabetes and pancreatic beta cell destruction or dysfunction. Both organic methylmercury and inorganic arsenic and mercury (mercury chloride) are shown to cause pancreatic beta cell death in animal studies via neurosignaling and immunosignaling dysfunctions, and via oxidative stress. The time to become concerned is not after you are diagnosed with Parkinson's, but now. In addition, the subject of iron overload toxicity is becoming a topic of much concern worldwide. With iron overload, proteins that bind and carry iron in circulation are saturated and the overload is weakly complexed to albumin, citrate, amino acids and sugars. Tissues in the liver, endocrine organs, kidneys and heart preferentially take up this weakly bound circulating iron, causing a variety of health problems and diseases. Helping the body to remove these slowly accumulating heavy metal toxins is a vital part of health maintenance in the modern industrial societies. The bulk of this article explains the environmental sources and toxicities of these heavy metals in the environment, and if you want to go directly to therapeutic suggestions, these are found toward the end of the article.

How bad is this organic lead and mercury toxicity for your health? A 2013 study of the effects of rising air pollution with organic lead and mercury from coal-fired power plants in China, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, conducted jointly by Chinese, Israeli and American scientists, indicated that rising air pollution from coal-fired power plants, smelters and other sources of organic lead and mercury toxins may shorten the life span of the population in Northern China by over 5 years!

Dr. Michael Greenstone, a professor of environmental economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) stated that this research "highlights the fact that the public health costs are larger than we thought". While China was a prime location for studying the health impacts of this lead and mercury toxicity, since the change in levels of pollution have been swift and data is available to compare health statistics before and after this introduction of heavy metal toxic pollution, the United States is still the largest producer of electricity from dirty coal-fired power plants. Over 44 percent of United States' electricity was generated by coal in 2011, and will continue to be generated by coal in the future, as the population and energy needs rise, yet almost no modern clean-coal technology has been implemented in the United States as of 2013. Coal is used to produce about 42 percent of the global electricity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Coal Industry Advisory Board, which stated in 2010 that at that time there was no standardized way to measure the efficiency of control of carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power plants across the world, now a focus of environmental regulation in the United States related to the alarming acceleration of global warming, which threatens our population and future generations in a number of ways. Approximated data estimates indicate that retrofitting existing power plants with both air scrubbers and CO2 capture technology would perhaps reduce efficiency by about 12 percent, raising the cost of producing the electricity considerably, but when considering the enormous health and financial burden generated by delaying this new technology, with rising health costs the main driver of the U.S. federal deficit, as well as a considerable burden financially for all businesses that will be required to offer health insurance, and for individuals that have to budget a rising health insurance cost, a rise in the cost of electricity seems to be the more economical option, especially as new energy-efficient appliances, heating and cooling technology, home insulation, industrial design, and automobiles are introduced.

Balancing improved energy efficiency with rising costs of clean power has been the focus of the Obama administration, and is a conservative approach with slower progress, but better overall outcome. Also included in the 2010 IEA report was the potential to raise the efficiency of coal-fired power plants with new technology to offset the lowering of efficiency with needed environmental protections. The IEA pointed out that selection of types of coal, methods of drying the coal, and new technologies such as flue gas desulphurisation and catalytic reduction could improve efficiency greatly. Of course, this would require a thoughtful step-by-step process of introducing new electricity production from natural gas, wind, solar and other technologies to allow large coal-fired plants to be shut down and replaced or refurbished. The first step would be to agree to achieve this goal. Since recent studies of the harm from organic lead and mercury air pollution has proven that there is considerable lost work days from illness, harm to children and fetuses with lifetime costs of healthcare increased, and a considerable rise in cardiorespiratory diseases that are debilitating, as well as lowered life expectancy, the economic math alone is enough to justify the immediate adoption of clean-coal technology, much less the equation of health versus cheaper electricity. The time to end the debate of clean coal technology as a political wedge issue dividing the population is at hand. Everyone want a better quality of life and a healthier life for their children.

In 2010, the Global Burden of Disease Study noted that this air pollution with organic lead and mercury toxins contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths yearly in the world, which is nearly 40 percent of the world total! In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 1 in 8 deaths across the planet can now be attributed to air pollution, with nearly half of this coming from indoor pollution in poor countries, while nearly 40 percent comes from dirty coal-fired power plants.

Citizens in poorer countries are paying a dear price, as their air is increasingly filled with tonnes of heavy metal organic airborne pollutants from power production, yet they themselves often have to depend on the burning of cow dung, wood and dirty coal to heat their homes and cook their food! Small particulate air pollution in these countries, mostly from within the home, reaches up to 300 times the average daily standard for maximum concentration set by the WHO. While we have been concerned with smoke and lung cancer in the past, the WHO states that this smoke pollution overwhelmingly creates premature deaths due to cardiovascular disease, not lung cancer. We have ignored this cardiovascular threat until recently, and the public is still not aware of it. Citizens in developed countries have to step up their role in accelerating cleaner technologies and promoting better global minimum standards of living to counter this threat. The richest countries have developed these technologies and taken advantage of income disparity to provide cheap labor, and now cannot ethically afford to turn a blind eye to world health, as well as the continuing problems in their own countries, where the WHO estimates that 400,000 premature deaths per year occur due to this air pollution.

While the media in the United States has been trying to convince Americans that they only need to worry about China, the actual worry starts at home. In 2009, there were 1436 coal-powered power plants in the United States, and the major coal producer in the world was the United States, with more than 90 percent of our coal purchased by U.S. utility companies. The electricity produced from coal in the U.S. in 2000 was about 225 gigawatts, but by 2012, the percentage of electricity produced from dirty coal dropped from nearly 53 percent to about 37 percent in the U.S.A. as the dirtiest coal-fired plants shut down, and natural gas refitting occurred at many smaller power plants. As this progression toward less pollution and harm to health occurred, a 2013 Environmental Protection Agency rule, called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAP), and the establishment of requirements to limit organic, or carbon-based air pollution, and so-called greenhouse gases, surviving a Supreme Court challenge, resulted in many of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants closing or planning to close. Since 2007, when 59 proposed coal-fired power plants were cancelled or placed on hold due to impending environmental guidelines, the response from major coal producers was to finance political opposition to clean coal requirements rather than to spend the money to build new plants that were both safe and efficient. The U.S. Energy Information Administration released information in 2013 that showed that more than half of the coal produced in the United States comes from just 4 companies now, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Inc., Alpha Natural Resources LLC, and Cloud Peak Energy, and large investors are thus able to generated enormous sums of money to affect legislation and elections to protect their interests. In addition, a single corporation, Koch Industries Inc. now controls a large percentage of coal transport, processing and coal byproducts use, and just one of the Koch Industries refineries processes nearly a quarter of the imported Canadian bitumen, from dirty tar-sands oil, generating an enormous amount of petcoke, the dirtiest fuel for electricity production, largely forbidden in the U.S. energy sector, but massively shipped out of the country to provide cheap petcoke for foreign electricity production, which of course leads to the air in the United States filled with the same carbonized airborne lead and mercury toxins that power plants would produce in the United States.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst Political Economy Research Institute stated in 2013 that just 3 companies rank among the top 30 polluters of the air and water of the United States, and the top contributors to climate change, ExxonMobil, American Electric Power, and Koch Industries. With the acquisition of Georgia-Pacific, a giant paper mill corporation, the largest acquisition of a publicly traded company in U.S. history, Koch Industries became ranked as the 13th most polluting corporation in the United States, and thus has raised billions of dollars in capital to lobby and influence elections, supporting a radical belief that all business regulation and environmental protection in the U.S. is just a totalitarian aspect of government. In the U.S. 1.99 trillion kilowatt-hours were generated from coal in 2006, while 1.95 trillion kilowatt-hours were generated by China, which has 5 times our population. Per capita, we are generating about 5 times the heavy metal toxicity that China is generating, yet the U.S. media continues to focus on China as the main polluter. While the worry is that electricity consumption is increasing at a fast pace in China, perhaps the majority of the organic lead and mercury toxicity already accumulated in the world, and certainly in the United States, came from the United States. This accumulation does not break down easily, and is harbored in the thick sludge at the bottom of our polluted rivers and lakes, in our underground aquifers, and in our own tissues. Opposition to clean coal technology and clean energy has produced an enormous burden on our health, and shortened our lives considerably, as well as creating a very unhealthy aging for Americans.

In 2015, President Xi Jinping of China, after an historic agreement in Paris to cut carbon dioxide pollution to slow human contribution to global warming, announced that China would try to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants by 60 percent by 2020, mainly through upgrades to clean coal technology, reducing overall carbon dioxide emissions by 180 million tons per year! In 2014 and 2015 the measurable amount of electricity production and usage of coal in China declined significantly each year, for the first time since the modern economic expansion in China, and in 2016 it was announced that a large percentage of older coal-fired power plants would be closed and 210 permits for future construction of new clean coal technology power plants were granted. Overall, there has been a layoff of 15 percent of the workforce in the coal energy sector, largely from state-owned companies, as well as a drop in hours worked. In November 2013, President Xi announced that China would try to reach a peak rise in overall carbon emissions in China by 2030, and indications are that this peak would be reached before that date. Since it is estimated that China now produces almost a third of the global coal-fired energy, this is a significant event, largely agreed to because of the progress by the Obama administration and the honest progress made in the United States.

China has set a cap on total coal use of 4.8 billion tons by 2020, and it is believed that the conversion to a slower growing consumer economy has already made this a reality. In early 2016, the fast-growing wind energy production capacity in China reached 30.5 gigawatts, a 31.5 percent increase in the last year, with permits issued to increase wind energy production by 138 GW, and the estimated feed-in tariff is expected to drop to being equal to that of coal-fired power by 2020. Solar energy costs and production have also increased dramatically worldwide, largely due to the lowered cost of solar technology from China, and China outlined plans to increase renewable energy from combined wind and solar sources by 21 percent in 2016. Bloomberg news reported that clean energy capacity in China in 2015 would reach 120 gigawatts of wind power, 43 gigawatts of solar, and 320 gigawatts of hydro power, according to the National Energy Administration (NEA). Utilization of these intermittent and variable sources of electricity requires advancing affordable battery storage technology as well, and China has advanced this technology considerably as well. Instead of applauding this progress, though, environmental groups in the West have waged a very critical campaign to downplay this progress and obfuscate the facts. In 2015, new figures on carbon emissions from China were dramatically lowered by environmental groups to make it harder for China to reach the 2030 cap on rising carbon emissions, attributed to information that less of the dirtiest coal was being used than previously estimated, and China responded by releasing data that showed that estimates of coal consumption in China had been underestimated, bringing the total present carbon emission levels higher. Such ridiculous games do not help achieve the goals, but instead only confuse the public and fuel propaganda efforts. As these decreases in coal energy carbon emissions occur there is also, of course, an increase in coal-fired power plants in other emerging economies. Such expansion in coal-fired power plants has largely been accomplished by companies from the United States, supported by the U.S. government, but is now accomplished by Chinese companies, who offer the technology at a much lower cost. Instead of criticizing this coal energy expansion as outrageous, implying that only the United States and Europe has the right to expand energy production, we should be encouraging the use of clean coal technology, as well as renewable energy technology in the emerging economies. Cooperation will work, and fighting and haughty attitudes from the rich economies will not. Getting the human race convinced that a steady reduction in heavy air pollution as energy needs increase is the key, and knowledge and awareness of the alarming adverse health effects will achieve this goal.

In addition to the enormous tonnage of carbonized airborne lead and mercury produced by the outdated and dirty coal-fired electricity plants that ends up on our crops, in our soils, in our lungs, and accumulates in our lakes and rivers, as the years progress another enormous contributor to heavy metal toxicity in the environment continues to get worse and worse. The enormous lakes of coal tar sludge, or slurry, present an almost insurmountable health problem. Incidents of illegal lack of control and maintenance of these toxic lakes of sludge has created enormous damage to the populations affected by millions of gallons of this highly concentrated heavy metal pollution allowed to leak or flow into rivers and streams, farmlands, and the natural aquifer that supplies water to the population. Numerous citations of deliberate polluting of rivers and streams, aquifers and farmland, have not stopped large holders of these lakes of coal-ash sludge from continuing to pollute. For instance, on February 2, 2014, a pipe collapse at a Duke Energy of North Carolina created a 70-mile toxic slick on the Dan River, with more than 39,000 tons of toxic heavy metal coal ash water gushing into the river, and subsequently North Carolina regulators claimed that Duke Energy actually pumped another 61 million gallons of this coal ash sludge into the Cape Fear River to avoid a collapse of a giant holding lake, marking the eighth time in a month that the company was cited for environmental violations. Duke Energy has responded by electing a woman to act as CEO and mount a public relations campaign, claiming that government regulation has stymied the company from cleaning up this mounting threat to public health, not their fault. In the meantime, Duke has moved to close its dirtiest coal plants, bring much natural gas electricity online, and invest in regional energy companies to meet minimum standards of clean energy and take advantage of future carbon credits.

Environmental sources of excess heavy metal toxins

Heavy metals are very prevalent in our environment naturally. The difference between these natural metals in our food, water and even herbs, and the metals produced by our industrial processes is one of absorption, accumulation and cellular effects. Metal particles in nature are generally inorganic, meaning that they are not combined with a carbon atom, and thus they do not combine easily with our own cells, which are carbon-based. Since these forms of inorganic heavy metals have been in our environment forever, human physiology has evolved ways to handle these naturally occurring heavy metals in normal concentration. Many studies have confirmed that only about 2-3 percent of inorganic mercury can be absorbed in the human body. They are usually excreted from our bodies without harm. In fact, most of these heavy metals found naturally in our environment are important for our healthy function in one way or another, in trace amounts. Lead is the exception to this rule. On the other hand, industrial heavy metal pollution often creates organic forms of these metal molecules that are completely absorbed by the lung and gastrointestinal tract, easily combine with common amino acids, such as cysteine and methionine, creating enzyme dysfunction, cell signaling dysfunction, hormonal dysfunction, and bioaccumulation in our tissues. This also contributes to the decreased bioavailability of these important amino acids, cysteine and methionine, which are the building blocks of many important protein hormones and enzyme regulators. Over time, these highly electromagnetically charged molecules accumulate and cause tissue electrolyte imbalances that predominantly affect the neurological function. These industrial processes also create other inorganic heavy metal molecules that are not natural to our bodies, and may cause dysfunction as well as they accumulate in our organ tissues and fat cells. As the public becomes concerned about heavy metal toxins in the environment, there has to be an awareness that there are different forms of lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium and cadmium, some relatively safe and benign, while other forms are hurting our health. Since the worst forms are spewed into the air as microscopic particles, the entire population is affected, not just those near power plants, smelters and other industrial sources, and not just those that eat canned tuna.

Inorganic lead is the clear exception to heavy metal toxicity related to organic or inorganic compounds. A study of the toxic effects of lead water pipes after they were introduced in the U.S. in the late 19th century, by experts at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Chicago. The findings showed that the introduction of lead pipes as about half of all water lines was associated with infant mortality rates and stillbirths increasing by 25-50 percent, but the newness of the pipes, before being coated with oxidation residues that limited the amount of lead that dissolved in the water, and the corrosiveness of the water, with more acidic water leaching more lead, were major factors, and with older pipes and less acidic water, the rates of infant mortality and stillbirth were about equal to populations where there were no lead pipes. Studies of the toxicity from these inorganic lead toxins from water pipes led to most experts agreeing that there was little evidence for real physiological threat, even though the levels of lead in the water rose considerably, because the introduction of inorganic lead into tissues was difficult without an organic component. If the levels of free carbon dioxide in the water rose, the toxicity increased. Studies of toxicity from 1900 on reveal that sources of lead in the water from sources other than the pipes was considered more of a health threat. A combination of acidity and free carbon dioxide increased the threat by turning inorganic lead to organic lead. Of course, studies in recent decades shows the potential to create more health problems than just stillbirth and infant mortality, but the questions of inorganic lead in water pipes continues to be debated in Flint, Michigan in 2016, where the corrosive acidic water was tied to increased lead from old lead pipes to explain the lead toxicity. This explanation ignores the fact that the Flint River was highly polluted, though, and a lot of inorganic lead may have occurred in the water from environmental sources, and not the lead in the pipes. This information was hard to find after the lead poisoning, and may have just been purposely ignored to shield industry and agricultural polluters. Nevertheless, we see that lead is more prone to conversion to an organic form, and more dangerous as an inorganic toxin.

Smelters and battery plants are the most significant source of inorganic lead pollutants, but our biggest health threat is the organic lead, mercury and other metal pollutants that are created predominantly in dirty coal technology in our power plants from the burning of carbon based fossil fuels, where more than half of the total methylmercury pollution originates, and perhaps 80 percent of the dangerous aerosolized organic mercury molecules. The implementation of rules that require effective cleaning or scrubbing of the enormous amount of smokestack pollution from coal-fired power plants has been delayed for over 30 years due to lobbying, with the Bush administration immediately overturning EPA suits that took over a decade to develop and win, and then instituting rules that were purposefully unenforceable. Luckily, in 2010, the Obama administration is enforcing new rules that will finally force the industry to develop and install effective scrubbers and cleaners (see the NY Times article below in additional info). In 2012, as the first set of elaborate coal-fired power plant scrubbers came on line due to the new mercury and lead regulations instituted by the Obama administration, saving tens of thousands of lives directly each year, and preventing hundreds of thousands of serious health problems, the response in the press was one of complaint, not a cheer or sigh of relief. Since the Bush administration passed laws preventing the implementation of these requirements to clean power plant emissions by an unclear requirement that they do not impact the economic viability or adversely affect the supply of power in an electrical grid, many companies have delayed adherence to the law and installation of the clean coal technology, despite decades of studies that prove that these energy companies have plenty of profits to pay for public protection. Reports of the first of these desperately needed emission scrubbers dwelt on the unfairness concerning many of the companies delaying the expense, and blame put unfairly on the Obama administration. There was little public outcry over delays in installing clean coal scrubbers.

In addition to the heavy metal toxicities in the air from dirty coal-fired energy production, and increasing issue concerns the processing of dirty coal and the enormous amounts of slurry that is accumulating, filled with a variety of heavy metal toxins cleaned from coal before burning, and then often dumped illegally into our water supplies by an industry that just doesn't want to spend the money to process this waste cleanly. Newer technologies in fossil fuel energy production are also creating enormous amounts of new pollution in our waters, such as open pit topping of mountains to efficiently mine coal, exposing this land to runoff of byproducts such as pyrite, which combines with water and forms excess sulfuric acid and iron. The sulfuric acid also dissolves other heavy metals in the soil and rock, such as manganese, zinc and nickel, creating an unhealthy accumulation of organic heavy metal molecules in the accumulating sludge at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. Much of this contaminated water is collected in giant lakes of pollution, which are becoming so large that companies are just illegally pumping it out into nearby streams, rather than processing it safely. Such large sources of contaminated water, filled with organic heavy metal toxins, are also accumulating when drilling companies that utilize deep fracturing methods do not use the safest and cleanest technology as well. These enormous accumulations of toxic liquid sludge are still exempt from federal Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) laws, until the companies are caught dumping the contaminated waters into the streams. The U.S. EPA has left it up to states to enforce standards of waste management, and some states have consistently refused to police these companies at all, leading to a crisis in accumulated liquid slurry that now threatens large populations. The biggest risk with these heavy metal toxins in water, air and soil is to the children directly affected, as theses toxins accumulate in the body, causing future health problems that threaten to bankrupt our government.

Sources of organic mercury, or methylmercury, pollution

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) estimates that over 70 percent of the mercury contamination comes from coal-fired electric power plants, waste incineration, chloralkali production (chlorine and sodium hydroxide manufacture), and other industrial activities that introduce aerosolized methyl mercury into our air. The cement industry is a significant contributor to mercury air pollution as well, with EPA estimation of manufacture of Portland Cement being the third biggest source of mercury air pollution in the U.S. Other forms of organic mercury include dimethylmercury, the most toxic, which was used in pesticides and antifungal agents, and the least toxic form, thiomersal, used in vaccines and pharmaceutical drugs as a preservative, which produces the metabolite ethylmercury, which is not bioaccumulative. The degree of toxicity is most important, as some forms of organic mercury, such as the topical antiseptic Mercurochrome (merbromin) are still widely used with no obvious health hazards, but in recent years was banned in France, Germany and the United States. Informed and intelligent individuals will not accept the one-size-fits-all propaganda, or 'spin', concerning mercury toxicity, which has only led to confusion and a lack of real progress in reversing this public health crisis. The knowledge that inorganic or elemental mercury is relatively nontoxic and passes through the human body easily, but that organic methylmercury is bioaccumulative and causes disease with this accumulation in human tissues and cells, does not require a doctoral degree.

Many of these industrial mercury pollutants could be greatly reduced by the adoption of slightly more expensive manufacturing techniques, as well as effective scrubbers of smokestack wastes, and clean coal technology. For example, there are two types of chloralkali production, and the mercury cell method produces a great amount of mercury air pollution, while the diaphragm cell method does not. The Portland cement method is the most widely used method due to the cheap availability of raw ingredients, but the environmental impact of this manufacture affects not only mercury air pollution levels, but pollution of waterways as well. Alternatives to the grossly polluting high-energy Portland cement method now produce strong reliable cements at lower temperature and much less pollution, especially regarding mercury air pollution. The calcium sulfoaluminate cements are a low-energy alternative to Portland cement that was developed in China, and used extensively there now. The lower energy requirements in kiln production also reduce greenhouse gases considerably. A variety of cements are now available, but some come with higher cost and more variability in properties, requiring testing. With governmental enforcement of clean air and water standards, though, the most polluting manufacturing methods will become impractical and costly compared to safer and cleaner manufacturing methods. Finally, in 2010, the EPA, under the Obama administration, is enforcing mercury emission limits on the coal and cement industry. While these standards may increase costs a little for electricity and cement, the savings in health care costs and environmental clean up, coupled with the need to reduce greenhouse gases to comply with international rules, make these environmental enforcements cost effective for the public and the federal government.

These aerosolized mercury molecules readily enter our lungs and bloodstream, and contaminate our soils and waters. By far the largest source of these airborne organic mercury toxins are dirty coal-fired electric power plants. Both energy industry greed and misguided environmental activism have contributed to a failure to resolve this threat to public health. Opposition to coal and failure to adopt pragmatic attitudes and solutions has delayed implementation of cleaner coal technology, and industry lobbying and payments to public officials, as well as legal delay and manipulation, have also delayed implementation of new and cleaner technology in the coal based energy industry. Nowhere do we see this failure more than in the United States. Coal will be a significant source of power generation even as we adopt clean energy production in the future, and we must insist that our country adopts cleaner coal technology now. We have been told that mercury contamination is largely from eating fish, but this is only because the environmental mercury from the air lands in the waters, and subsequently in the water plants, and then in the fish that eat these plants. High levels of methyl mercury are found in predatory ocean fish, predominantly tuna and shark, and sometimes in larger varieties of fresh water predatory fish such as walleye and large mouthed bass, because these fish consume other contaminated fish, and these organic mercury toxins accumulate in tissues. The root source of this organic mercury toxin in the environment, even in the fish, is predominantly from dirty, outdated coal fired electric power plants that go unregulated and fail to utilize the latest technology to clean smokestack emissions. In the past, we see the industry promoting many scientific articles that point to the ability of bacteria in the environment to convert inorganic mercury, which is inert and relatively harmless, to organic and methylmercury, but this accounts for a very small percentage of the organic and methylmercury in environment, and is largely a misdirection, or 'spin', to avoid focus on the real sources of toxic lead and mercury.

The real source of mercury contamination is thus ubiquitous, and found in our immediate environment, not just canned tuna, especially if you live or work near these poorly regulated coal-fired plants or other industrial facilities. CNN investigative reporting revealed that children living in close proximity to smelting plants in Chile have been found to have an extremely high rate of toxic levels of lead and mercury in their tissues, resulting in neurodegenerative and developmental problems in up to 90 percent of the population! These children, and their parents, are not eating tuna and swordfish. The potential risk from heavy metals in your environment that are in an aerosolized or gaseous state are greater than the risk of these metals in a solid state. This is because the gaseous or aerosolized forms may enter the blood stream, tissues and cells much easier than the solid forms. The EPA did succeed in removing lead from gasoline to reduce injury to the population, but has been thwarted in applying the industry adoption of advanced air scrubbers and changed technology to the most offensive sources of the pollution. While EPA policy did reduce acid rain from sulfur contamination in smokestack emissions over 30 years ago, currently, we are not progressing in applying new technology to protect our children from neurodegenerative and immunodegenerative problems from organic aerosolized lead and mercury contamination today.

Today, the Department of Energy posts a website that describes supposedly clean coal technology and scrubbers that are currently in use. This is very misleading and cynical. The fact is that the scrubbing technology utilized in the United States was designed to remove acid rain pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and does little to remove lead and mercury organic gases from the smokestack wastes. The original scrubbers, utilized after the clean air acts in 1985 were passed, actually removed hard sulfur from the coal before firing, despite the fact that the industry was well aware that the main problem was with organic sulfur attached to the carbon in the coal, which was not removed. Removal of hard sulfur from the coal dust before firing did little to clear acid rain. Little by little, the coal scrubbing technology improved over the years, but always utilized the cheapest technology, and failed to utilize the proper technology to clean harmful pollutants from the gas. Even China now utilizes the latest technology, installing the huge Mitsubishi scrubbers on new plants, while the United States has installed little of this proven technology, which removes over 90 percent of the worst organic heavy metal pollutants from the smokestack wastes. Of course, China still has a lot of dirty coal-fired power plants without clean coal technology, but it is not a country with the wealth and resources of the United States and currently struggles to meet the rising demand for electricity as a population 5 times that of the United States emerges from relative poverty to create a comfortable middle class lifestyle. New technology is desperately needed in the United States to set an example for efficient clean energy for China and the rest of the world.

In 2011, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu suggested that three types of technology would also be applicable in the future to obtain clean energy credits in the coal-fired power plant, gasification, oxyburning and use of carbon dioxide scrubbers. With oxyburning, the coal is burned in pure oxygen, allowing the carbon dioxide to be captured, and reducing the carbon mercury significantly. With gasification, the coal is gasified, producing carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which is then burned or captured to provide cleaner energy production. These technologies apply to future power plants, though, not to those already in existence. Carbon dioxide scrubbers may be added to conventional coal-fired power plants to capture sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other pollutants, and the addition of these technologies for most coal-fired power plants has not resulted in plant closings, higher energy costs, or loss of net jobs, as considerable employment is generated by construction and manufacture of these technologies. The Department of Energy is also investing in research to make these technologies more affordable, and pushing for the adoption of carbon credits to spur the industrial change. None of these technologies, though, are currently in wide use to reduce carbon dioxide and acid rain, and none of them address the current crisis of organic mercury poisoning. To make change now, new guidelines must be enforced, and the industry must finally invest in clean coal technology that is ready to be installed. Investment in health and disease prevention is the best form of investment, both for the individual and their children, and for business as a whole.

Environmental protection from the Obama administration

What has the United States accomplished? In May of 2010, the United States government finally reduced sulfur dioxide emission limits after 40 years of waiting! Sulfur dioxide is mainly produced by coal fired power plants in the United States, and EPA reports required by law have produced evidence that this reduction in the allowable limits of sulfur dioxide emissions would prevent almost 6000 deaths, 54,000 severe asthma attacks per year, and reduce health spending by as much as $33 billion per year in treatment directly attributable to high sulfur dioxide levels in the air. These deaths and injuries are not confined to the immediate areas around the power plants, but are proven to affect the entire country, as well as foreign countries. The terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 killed just over 2000 citizens, while this one form of excessive power plant emission alone kills 6000 per year! The allowable levels were reduced by half to 75 parts per billion, and even this drastic reduction does not meet the standards urged by the American Lung Association, not exactly a radical left-wing group.

While the American press continues to emphasize that China is now the leading producer of sulfur dioxide emissions, due to its quick expansion of coal fired power plants, there has been little emphasis on the fact that until 2009, the United States was by far the highest contributor of sulfur dioxide pollution into the air, and the nation of China has 5 times our population, and a larger geographic size. By comparison, China would have to create 5 times our levels of sulfur dioxide pollution to exceed our contribution to the planetary air poisoning.

In fact, the environmental legal limits allowed in China of sulfur dioxide emissions is lower than that allowed by the United States. To see current efforts to curb toxic pollutants in China, click this link: http://www.epa.gov/ogc/china/initiative_home.htm. To correct this problem, we need to set a better example, create affordable technology that we share with the world, and create economic incentives for United States industries that operate in China to increase compliance with their air quality standards. United States industries, supported by our consumers, ever greedy for cheaper products, consistently violate Chinese environmental regulation, and the American public and investors need to call these companies to account. A list of such scofflaws was presented by GreenPeace in 2009. Click to this link to see which U.S. multinational companies fail to follow the law in China: http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/releases/toxics/2009/silent-giants/. Getting informed, and speaking out, will have an effect. In the United States, the U.S. Energy Information Administration states that fossil fuels meet 84 percent of the energy demand, and fossil fuels and nuclear sources account for 93 percent of energy generation. With such a high percentage of our energy generation contributing so much unnecessary mercury and lead carbon compounds, sulfur dioxide, and radioactive wastewater, the need for change is long overdue. Surely, a country as innovative as ours could provide both energy and a more healthy environment.

While the U.S. and Europe may pat themselves on the back for apparent attempts at reducing the bulk of the world's organic lead and mercury poisoning for the last century, for which we are responsible, and now smugly blame developing economies such as China for the present state of extreme heavy metal toxicity in the population of the world, the sad truth is that the U.S. and Europe, in response to long overdue environmental pressure, has simply exported the burden of huge organic lead and mercury pollution to China and other developing nations. By sending manufacturing jobs overseas that demand huge amounts of electricity, we not only export jobs and create unemployment, but we also insure that the bulk of necessary organic lead and mercury poisoning from coal-powered electricity plants needed to fuel our products are produced in China, Indonesia, etc. In fact, Europe merely dismantled many of its dirty coal-fired electrical generating facilities and shipped them to China, thereby reportedly complying with the Kyoto accords to some extent. The populations of the U.S. and Europe need to take a realistic look at these circumstances and take responsibility for the situation. The solution lies in promoting true clean coal technology and increasing the smaller contribution from clean renewable energy sources, while also reducing the consumption of products that are energy-intensive, and reducing the per capita use of electricity as well. A holistic approach, in other words, is necessary, which is commonly called reducing each individual's "carbon footprint". We must also do our part to work with developing countries to create new green technology, not just blame them for what we created. We should keep in mind that this heavy metal pollution is in the atmosphere, affecting the population of the planet, across borders, ethnicities, and national identities, does not significantly affect where this air-borne toxicity goes. Such heavy metal toxicity is affecting all of us.

Aerosolized carbon mercury and lead is not the only source of heavy metal toxic pollution from dirty coal-fired power plants, though. Today, many coal scrubbers that have been recently installed on U.S. coal fired power plants produce a massive amount of water waste and sludge that pollutes the ground water and rivers, yet still fails to prevent gaseous lead and mercury from escaping into the air. The massive and growing body of toxic wastewater from these coal-fired power plants contains harmful compounds of mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium, and other hazardous toxins. Much of the success we achieved in reducing acid rain from sulfur ended up causing another type of toxic heavy metal pollution in these massive lakes of toxic sludge that seap into our water supplies. In 2010, the U.S. EPA finally agreed to update guidelines for these effluent wastes from coal-fired power plants in a consent decree with Defenders of Wildlife, set to take place in 2014. The aerosolized organic lead and mercury contamination was not significantly reduced by the technology that we currently utilize, either. In 1999, the EPA finally won a lawsuit requiring that the industry clean this organic lead and mercury gas from smokestack emissions, yet the Bush and Cheney administration overturned the ruling in 2000. This cynical and duplicitous history of supposed clean coal technology, even advertised on the official Department of Energy website, is an insult to the intelligence of the United States public. Finally, the public is becoming educated and speaking out to accomplish what their elected representatives were supposed to do, protect the health and well being of their constituents. The ironic fact is that it took market forces, not environmental action, to finally achieve a significant reduction in this heavy metal toxicity from dirty coal-fired power plants, with the cost of natural gas so low and plentiful that coal was no longer the cheapest option. Now we must deal with the rising burden of heavy metal toxicity from the wastewater accumulating from dirty gas-fracturing drilling sites. Hopefully, public pressure and awareness will result in the use of the safest and cleanest technology in this fast-growing field of energy.

"Environmental protection is not just protection of the environment, but protection of the health of our citizens, especially the young, the old, and the sick, from dangerous and harmful environmental causes of disease"

How bad is the methyl mercury accumulation and its harmful effect in the United States? A January 24, 2012 article in the Science section of the New York Times, entitled Mercury's Harmful Reach Has Grown, Study Suggests, by Anthony DePalma, reports that a study by the Biodiversity Research Institute of Gorham, Maine, found that methylmercury accumulation and its harmful effects was now widespread throughout the Northeastern United States. Dangerously high levels of methylmercury have now been measured in forest growth, mountaintops, bogs and marshes, not just in large lakes and rivers or the ocean water, and dangerously high levels of organic mercury poisoning has been found to be widespread in many species of birds and wild animals. Studies have demonstrated the wide array of harmful health effects, especially on the nervous system, in these species. For instance, higher levels of organic mercury accumulation was proven to affect the range of frequencies achieved in mating calls of zebra finches, affecting reproduction. The ill effects of organic mercury poisoning were found to occur at much lower levels than previously thought possible. Songbirds showed a 10 percent decrease in the rate of successfully hatched eggs with just blood mercury levels of 0.7 parts per million, and a 30 percent decrease in egg hatching rates when the levels reached 1.7 parts per million. Such studies are difficult to apply in the human population, but these studies imply that much of the increase in fertility problems in humans in the industrialized countries with vast organic mercury pollution could be attributed to this organic methyl mercury contamination. The scientists of the Biodiversity Research Institute stated that these birds act as sentinels for what is happening in our environment, and the affects on human health. Their studies have noted a wide array of neurological problems from the slow accumulation of organic mercury in the tissues, with erratic behavior, loss of some of the radar sensitivity in bats, and other measurable neurological deficits. Timothy H. Tear, director of science for the Nature Conservancy of New York, stated: "What people don't realize is that our rain isn't just acidic. It is neurotoxic (due to organic mercury and lead pollution)." Just as the concern for animal protection from cruelty eventually led to child protection laws, it appears that regulations protecting wildlife and natural habitats are finally leading to actual protection of the human species and habitat from our industrial toxins.

Many of our politicians are concerned about public health over huge industrial profit, but the politicians that accept lobbying and campaign money from these industries that harm our health have been able to thwart the efforts of honest, concerned elected officials. Even the libertarian-minded Tea Party has been co-opted by the Koch Brothers and other industrial giants involved in this massive toxic pollution, championing industry freedom to create disease over the individual's freedom to avoid disease from an environment beyond their individual control. The public must become informed and voice their concern for this to change to a healthier environment and food supply. The history of regulation of these aerosolized forms of mercury, lead and other heavy metal contaminants is both complicated and pitiful. Between 1971 and 1980, much research determined that these airborne mercury and lead contaminants posed significant health risk. In 1980, Section 109 of the Clean Air Act directed that the EPA should establish an independant committee of seven experts to complete reviews of the information each 5 years, and that these reviews should guide EPA standards. In 1990, the standard for airborne lead was lowered to .5 micrograms per cubic meter, but the EPA was directed to concentrate its efforts aimed at reducing nonair sources instead, within the Title 1 Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990. These EPA directives during the Reagan and Bush administration served to postpone the inevitable demand to add effective air scrubbers to smokestacks of our coal fired energy plants, or develop a true clean coal technology. Added to this were guidelines that protected the industry from costly improvements to existing power plants, pushing the requirements to the realm of new power plants, which were not built. What this policy did was to encourage expansion of existing power plants to skirt the EPA guidelines, and to further delay implementation of new technology in the United States. Creating new and cleaner power plants would have created jobs in construction and technology, preserved employment in coal mining and power generation for the future, and led to a massive decrease in disease and health expenditures, requiring less taxation to run our government and pay off the now massive federal debt generated largely by these healthcare expenditures. So-called conservative politics had the blinders on.

In 1999, the EPA finally won a longstanding suit with the Tennessee Valley Authority and other large coal fired electrical producers to either install effective air scrubbers at considerable cost, or pay a huge cleanup fine. This was the same corporation that was in the news in the winter of 2008 because a levy broke on a holding pond and flooded 300 acres with waste from a coal-fired energy plant containing carcinogenic lead, mercury, arsenic, etc. Cheap air scrubbing technology at this plant not only failed to significantly decrease organic gaseous lead and mercury airborne pollution, but also created a massive dangerous lake of harmful water pollutants of solid and liquid heavy metals that the company did nothing to clean up. EPA regulation and enforcement of this carcinogenic and toxic waste from coal fired energy plants was postponed throughout the Bush Cheney administered years due to economic pressures. In 2000, the Bush and Cheney administration brought in industry experts and found a way to undermine the EPA lawsuit and reverse the enforcement of an agreement to add scrubber technology to our coal fired energy plants. Subsequently, many EPA officials quit their jobs and complained that the the EPA was undermined by the current administration. New standards for risk management were not completed until 2007, and public hearings were not held on these revisions until the summer of 2008. Final evaluation of current information on lead and mercury study from a wide variety of sources revealed the pertinent information for public health. The information in this article is derived from the Federal Register; Vol 73; No 219; Nov 12, 2008; Rules and Regulations.

In addressing control of the vast amount of lead and mercury gases added to our environment yearly, the EPA did a study in 2002 that showed that there were 12 stationary sources in the country with lead emissions over 5 tons per year, and 124 sources over 1 ton of lead emission per year. The more than 200 tons! of airborne toxic emissions from these 136 sources per year does not even include the tons of mercury poured yearly into our environment from these dirtiest of sources. These sources are predominantly coal-fired electrical power plants and smelters with outdated technology. Rules and regulations put in place by the federal administration require that 'Reasonably Available Control Measures', 'Reasonably Available Control Technology', and 'Reasonable Further Progress' be a part of any regulatory process. These rules are general means by which the offending industries may claim unreasonable financial burden and put off cleaning up this threat to public health indefinately. These rules make it difficult for the EPA and state agencies to even insure that the offending industries make linear incremental progress in cleaning up this very threatening problem. As our population grows and energy demand increases, these amounts of harmful airborne organic lead and mercury continue to rise. To a large number of patients that are finding that they have devastating health problems, the feeling is that these contaminants should have been decreased or eliminated a long time ago. After 2002, if just 136 of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants out of the 1436 plants in operation had been closed, more than 200 tons of organic lead poison in the air would have been eliminated, as well as an amazing tonnage of organic mercury and other heavy metal toxins.

"For six or seven years, the Bush administration had absolutely blocked any attempt to create a legally binding instrument (to reduce organic mercury toxins in the environment). The Obama administration, within three or four weeks of inauguration, was able to put that into reverse." --- Susan Egan Keane, policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council

The current health threat from airborne organic heavy metal toxins and the pollutants that accompany them in smokestack emissions that aren't scrubbed effectively

Lead and mercury contamination from coal-fired power plants are not the only significant health risk attributed to these plants and the lack of air scrubbers on their emission stacks. The EPA created an unbiased institute to assess these industries titled the Health Effects Institute of Ottawa. This institute compiled epidemiological data gathered from over 35,000 people over 18 years and from over an additional 150,000 people in recent years, and reported that soot, or fine particle air pollution, mainly from coal-fired power plants and oil refineries, increased premature death from cardiovascular disease by 100 percent, or caused twice the number of premature deaths.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, with 288 deaths per 100,000 citizens yearly in 2004. Despite reports that outlined these dangers in 2006, the EPA, which regulates fine particle air emissions, failed to lower chronic exposure limits to protect public health. This was challenged by public groups and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared in 2008 that this decision was inadequate. In 2005, the U.S. EPA released a comprehensive report entitled Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Clean Air Mercury Rule Final Report. In this report, the EPA noted multiple studies showing neurodevelopmental harm to fetuses with low-level mercury exposure, with deficiencies of cognitive function as well as motor functions, and problems with the children keeping up in school. Several studies cited also demonstrated that low-level mercury toxicity in adults resulted in a variety of CNS dysfunctions, increased risk for stroke and heart attack, heart disease, genotoxic effects on white blood cells, risk of leukemia and liver cancer, and reproductive and renal toxicity. The small number of studies of effects on humans that were published was discussed, with much of the data on reproductive health coming from 2 studies of mercury poisoning in Iraq and Japan, or animal studies. In 2005, the U.S. EPA insisted that the only measurement of lowered chronic mercury toxicity in humans was the consideration of the effects of decreasing the smokestack emissions from coal-fired power plants on accumulations of mercury in fish. Since the science of the effects of measurable decreases of mercury in fish tissues from lowering the mercury in the air is complex, no real conclusions were made. The exposure to organic mercury directly from the air, water or accumulation in food crops was considered either insignificant or too complex to consider in the report, with remarks that the considerable mercury accumulation in rivers and lakes may accumulate in the sediment at the floor of these waterways rather than in the water itself. Much of the report was devoted to the study of sports fishing and the impact of mercury toxicity on that population.

This rather lengthy 2005 EPA report, cynically termed the Final Report, is now infamous as a deliberate underplaying of the benefits suggested from lowering the tonnage of methylmercury and lead from coal-fired power plants by 70 percent, as was recommended. The small number of scientific studies published on humans concerning the adverse health effects, and the estimation that lowering airborne lead and mercury considerably may have only a minor impact on the levels in fish for some time, was cited, and no definitive conclusions were reached. In other words, despite the array of alarming health effects, we should probably just study this situation for another 10 or 20 years. Finally, in December of 2011, the U.S. EPA announced significant rule changes in the mercury and air toxics standards (MATS) for power plants, the source of at least 50 percent of mercury emissions, reducing standards for allowable mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel, acid gases, sulfur dioxides and particulate matter, noting that all of these heavy metal toxins are now proven to cause cancer, exert significant neurodevelopmental defects in fetuses, increase cardiovascular risks, incidence of asthma and bronchitis (COPD), and damage the environment. It was estimated that these new rules would significantly affect about 1400 power plants in existence. It was estimated that by 2016, these new rules would result in up to 11,000 premature deaths avoided yearly, 2800 cases of COPD, 4700 heart attacks, 130,000 cases of asthma, 140,000 cases of chronic respiratory symptoms, and eliminate 540,000 days of missed work, with health benefits savings resulting in up to $90 billion in 2016 alone, and economic costs to industry and government of $9.6 billion. The total economic benefits of these rule changes could not be estimated, and probably far exceeded the $90 billion per year savings versus the $9.6 billion spent.

A 2008 EPA report on lead contamination found that the major health threat from lead toxicity is also posed by airborne lead, which is emitted from a variety of sources and occurs in a variety of particle sizes. These lead particles of small size may deposit very far from the source, and once deposited, can subsequently be resuspended in the ambient air and contribute to toxic concentrations for some years into the future. In other words, tiny aerosolized organic lead toxins do not break down even as well as organic mercury molecules. The human exposure from toxic lead is derived both from inhaling the air we breathe, and from indirect exposure from contaminated water, food and dust. Estimating the separate contributions of these various sources is complicated, and is dependant on specific regional sources and concentrations, making uniform legal enforcement difficult. The EPA determined that in various cases, air contamination might be the primary source of lead toxin, and in other individual cases it may be water and food. In some circumstances, old lead pipes or lead paint could be a significant source of the lead, although airborne lead and mercury were by far the most significant sources affecting public health, according to this comprehensive report, since the lead from pipes and paint is inorganic. Once organic lead and mercury enter the human body, either via the air or by ingestion, they bioaccumulate, predominantly in the bone, but also in the soft tissues of the brain, liver, kidney etc. Studies of the ratio of the lead air concentration and the subsequent blood concentration levels found that there was considerable variance, with children living near smelters in these studies having a blood concentration that was six times greater, in relation to the air concentration, than normal, showing that various forms of air contamination posed differing levels of increased risk, and that overall, lowering the levels of airborne organic lead would logarithmically reduce the circulating blood levels in humans, and the subsequent bioaccumulation.

The current EPA analysis shows that lead has been demonstrated to exert "a broad array of deleterious effects on multiple organ systems via widely diverse mechanisms of action." These include neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental effects, decreased or altered blood cell synthesis in the marrow, reproductive problems, and ill effects on kidney, cardiovascular, and immune function. The effects were most pronounced on children and mainly attributed to airborne contamination.

Adults, too, were found to be affected pathologically at blood levels lower than previously understood. Some people with certain genetic polymorphisms were more susceptible to injury. Functional neurotoxicity in children included sensory, motor, cognitive and behavioral impacts. Studies showed problems with learning, attention deficit, coordination, etc. and findings showed that these problems could persist for many years. From these studies the patient should understand that clearing lead and mercury from the system still would not guarantee a quick recovery, that neurodegenerative and other health problems probably worsened slowly until more severe symptoms materialized, and that measures must be taken to insure that subsequent generations of citizens do not suffer this same fate. Again, the solution to this problem of alarming heavy metal toxicity is to both stop the excess and unnecessary pollution sources, and to aid the body in chelating and clearing the bioaccumulation and restoring the health of the brain, heart, lung, liver, kidney and bone marrow.

The 2007 EPA report found that the expert scientific panel unanimously supported substantially lowering the acceptable levels of lead concentration. The report indicated that the three main industry associations (National Association of Manufacturers, Non-ferrous Founders Association, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce) continue to insist, despite overwhelming expert evidence, that standards of acceptable levels should not be lowered, that non-airborne contamination was of primary concern, and that reduction of air contamination will not significantly benefit the public good. This demonstrates the self-serving and short-sighted attitude on the part of our industrial leaders, and demands that public governmental regulation be the primary mechanism of cleaning up this mess. The EPA administrator concluded that acceptable levels should be lowered for the public safety, but that there were no present evidence-based guidelines to establish clear public health protection.

Mercury contamination is very similar to lead contamination, and predominantly comes from the same sources, with most organic mercury consumed from agricultural products contaminated by distant sources of airborne organic methylmercury and inorganic divalent mercury. Contamination of the soil locally is a concern, especially from unregulated chlor-alkali plants that produce chlorine and lye, but the greatest threat in our environment is from the airborne organic mercury particles, predominantly created by burning organic fuel, namely carbon based coal. Studies have shown that, among the trace elements of coal, mercury is cited as the material released into the atmosphere at the highest rate. The main differences between organic mercury and organic lead toxicity is that lead mainly accumulates into our bones, making it very hard to get rid of, while most mercury compounds have a relatively short half-life of a few months, and are eliminated at a higher rate than the lead compounds. This does not diminish the serious consequences of mercury accumulation, though, especially in the brain.

Although organic, or carbon containing, mercury compounds are the most injurious to our health, some forms of inorganic mercury released in industrial carbon burning processes have also been shown to be a health threat in less direct ways in our bodies

The EPA estimates that simple methylmercury, the most toxic form known, accounts for 10 percent of the total mercury contamination of our agricultural products. Divalent mercury accounts for 90 percent of the mercury exposure to our agricultural food. Divalent mercury is an inorganic mercury molecule that has a valency, or electrical charge, of 2+, making it very attractive to and reactive with other molecules in our bodies. Recent study of the health effects of divalent mercury also find devastating systemic risks to our health. A joint Japanese American study from 1999, that included Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, found that divalent mercury blocked human skeletal and cardiac muscle sodium channels, potentially causing an array of problems, including heart attacks and chronic regional pain syndromes such as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), as well as peripheral neuropathies. The array of health problems now associated with sodium channelopathy is enormous. The 1997 EPA report relies on past study of specific populations in Iraq and Japan that were proven to be poisoned, acutely or chronically, by mercury contamination. The Iraq study showed that paresthesia, or peripheral neuropathy, was the most common effect observed in a population overtly affected by inorganic mercury contamination.

Health threats from inorganic, or divalent mercury, continue to emerge as more study is completed. Even past studies demonstrated alarming risk from divalent mercury. The Department of Toxicology at Purdue University, in 1974, found that divalent mercury interacted with acetylcholine to produce hyperactivity of adrenal release of catecholamines, namely epinephrine, norepinephrine (adrenalins), and L-dopa, our major stress hormones. Anxiety disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States, and the taking of selective norepinephrine and serotonin releasing inhibitors as antianxiety agents are now very common. Adrenal stress syndromes are linked to hyptertension and subclinical hypothyroid syndromes as well. (Refer to Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, Volume 28, Issue 1, April 1974, Pages 82-87). This study at Purdue University in Indiana, in the United States, thus linked even inorganic mercury pollution with such diseases as nocturnal bruxism, restless leg syndrome, sleep disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autonomic nervous system pathologies, tremors and facial twitches, anxiety disorders, and a host of problems associated with central nervous system hyperexcitability.

Divalent mercury, or inorganic mercuric mercury, may also be converted to organic methylmercury in our lakes and streams by activity of the natural flora and fauna. This makes contamination of our waters, and both the fish consumed from these waters, as well as the agricultural products irrigated or fertilized by these water product, of particular concern. Concentrations of mercury in our lakes and streams is increasing over time, and studies have confirmed that levels of mercury in wildlife affected by these waters have demonstrated significant adverse effects on reproduction. The EPA also poses the possibility that humans may be more sensitive than wildlife to the noted reproductive risk due to differences in the ability to detoxify methylmercury. This inorganic divalent mercury does not break down in the normal environment as fast as the organic mercury, but instead accumulates, gradually increasing the amount of constant methylmercury contamination. This study also noted that both inorganic divalent mercury and methylmercury can also be converted to gaseous mercury in our waters by sunlight irradiation and natural organic matter, such as fulvic acid. Fulvic acid, also called humic acid, is created by the microbial decay of plant and animal matter, and so is prevalent in all natural waters and soils. This process adds considerable mercury contamination to the air we breath, as well as to the food chain overall. In other words, most of the mercury contamination in our air is inorganic divalent mercury that is difficult to break down and accumulates, which then converts to organic methylmercury via various pathways, including microbial action, organic decay, and even exposure to sun radiation.

In addition to the human suffering posed from lead and mercury contamination, the EPA concluded that the environments near airborne lead industry were also heavily impacted, with loss of species diversity, loss of vegetation, changes to community composition, increased invasive species and decrease in growth of native species of vegetation. These environmental impacts also have an indirect negative health impact on humans, with increased allergens, decreased nutrients in our crops, and increased use of pesticides and herbicides to control invasive species on our farms, etc. This injury to the environment by lead and mercury pollution is undeniably important to human health.

Misdirection - the focus on mercury in dental fillings and lead in paint

An enormous amount of publicity of the mercury in dental fillings has been disseminated in the last decade, and this has taken the public focus off of the real sources of organic mercury contamination. Inert and inorganic mercury compounds do not present a direct health threat to the body. The only threat of the mercury in dental fillings comes from the minute amounts that may rub off over time and form miniscule amounts of organic mercury compound. This very minute amount of mercury is routinely eliminated from the body in the digestive tract, via the urine, and even via the blood excretion to sweat. In fact, the removal of the old mercury fillings in teeth presents a much more serious potential harm from inhalation of organic mercury in the form of vapor during the grinding than the mercury fillings presented before removal. Even this has been studied, though, and Harvard Medical School released 2006 studies showing that randomized trials of children that inhaled mercury vapors released by removal of dental amalgams did not result in significant neuropschological or kidney function problems over the next 5 years (PMID: 16622139). These children had significantly higher levels of urinary excreted mercury, but no discernable difference was noted in brain function tests or kidney function from the children that did not have the mercury fillings removed. Getting stressed about mercury fillings in the teeth and ignoring the threat of mercury toxicity from the air is just ridiculous. Our media has promoted this widespread misdirection, and one has to wonder who paid them for this service.

The threat from lead paint has been also been highly emphasized, even though the vast majority of lead in human circulation, even in children exposed to a lot of lead paint chips, comes from other sources. The health threat from this inorganic lead in circulation has also been equated with organic lead, even though it is obvious that organic lead poses a much greater health threat. A 2005 study in Johannesburg, Africa compared past studies of children exposed to lead paint chips with recent studies, and found that after lead was significantly removed from auto gasoline emissions, the elevated circulating lead levels in comparable groups of children still exposed to lead pain chips in slum housing was greatly reduced. Studies before the implementation of bans on excess lead in gasoline found that 90 percent of these children had excess blood levels of lead, while studies after the ban on excess lead in gasoline were implemented showed that only 35 percent of these children had excess blood levels of lead. Obviously, most of the problem was from aerosolized lead. If the vast tonnage of organic airborne lead was reduced in these neighborhoods, created by power plants, smelters and other industries near these slums, or even far away, how far would these percentages of children with excess circulating lead levels then fall? In all of these studies, there is no mention of differentiation between one type of lead in circulation from another type. All lead paint studies start with an a priori assumption that the lead paint chips are the source of circulating lead, a fact that has long been altered by modern research of ubiquitous airborne organic lead pollution. While it is important to reduce lead pain chip exposure, and it is true that this problem disproportionally affects poor people living in housing with deteriorating paint, ignoring the real threat of lead toxicity in the air and becoming overly alarmed by paint chips, or even lead paint that is not even chipping, is not sensible. Inorganic lead from paint is more likely to be eliminated safely from the blood circulation, or deposit in bone, not soft tissue, than organic lead molecules from industry smokestacks and the burning of fossil fuels.

Studies of toxicity from lead paint point out that absorption from eating lead paint particles depends heavily on various factors. The smaller the particle, the more likely it is absorbed. So parents that see some large lead paint flakes should not be as alarmed as parents who are aware that lead paint deteriorating over time into dust presents the real threat to health, as it is more easily absorbed into the stomach and intestinal linings, or even the lungs. Gastrointestinal absorption is dependent upon cofactors, which are diets where there are deficiencies of iron, zinc, calcium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, riboflavin and phosphorus, or if the diet is a high fat and/or low calorie diet. Studies have also shown that ingested small particle lead is more likely to be absorbed in children than in teens and adults. If the lead in paint is absorbed via the lung or stomach and intestines, it may go to the circulating blood, where it is found primarily within the red blood cells, taken up with iron. This is eliminated from the body when the red blood cells are broken down in the spleen and liver. Studies show that about 99 percent of this lead goes to the red blood cells. Deposition of the free lead in soft tissues, especially in the organs that break down aging red blood cells, such as the liver and spleen/pancreas, is the chief concern, as well as the soft tissues of the brain. Most of the inorganic lead that is not excreted will eventually wind up in the bone and teeth. Studies show that about 90 percent of the total lead in the body will reside in the bones and teeth. This is why chelation of lead is more difficult than chelation of mercury. About 90 percent of this lead stored in bones and teeth will be in a compartment that allows it to slowly break down and release into the blood. Most of the lead that is chelated will be excreted via the bile and then the feces, or in the urine. The concern about lead toxicity at a reasonably low level is the damage to the health over time, and with aging. The lead from paint, if it gets into the body during a short period of time, will be chelated and excreted in a reasonable amount of time. The real threat to health is the persistent daily prolonged taking in of lead from the normal environment. While we must be concerned about children and excess lead paint dust, adults need to be concerned about the large tonnage of aerosolized organic lead that they are exposed to for their entire life, daily, due to excess smokestack emissions when burning fossil fuels.

This focus on such sources of mercury and lead as inert dental fillings, tuna, and even lead paint, has succeeded in misdirecting the public alarm away from the real heavy metal toxin sources. While the exposure to lead from more direct sources is real, with studies showing that almost half of workers in a modern industrialized society may experience significant occupational exposure to lead (American Journal of Epidemiology; Vol 166(9): 1005-1014), the majority of these cases were attributed to exposure to gasoline and other fumes, with 50 percent of workers experiencing this type of occupational lead exposure. Even in occupational exposure, only 7.5 percent of male workers age 35-70 showed lead toxicity related to leads found in paints and liquid products. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported, there are almost no studies of the actual lead and mercury toxicity from common airborne organic smokestack emissions in humans. Most of the numerous studies of this type of toxicity concern the study of animals and the environment, and we must ask ourselves why this is the case, or why have such studies not been funded or printed. Despite the success of business interests to discourage the study and publication of this threat to public health, the evidence did eventually result in international agreement that the threat was real and alarming, and had to be regulated. Hopefully, such articles as this succeed in directing the public attention to the dangerous public health threats and both build individual awareness and public outrage that our governments have been dragging their feet and serving the polluting industries more than the individual citizens.

Diagnosing organic lead and mercury accumulation

Unfortunately, there are few tests routinely available to actually and directly confirm lead and mercury accumulation in deep tissues, especially in the brain tissues, or the accumulation of organic lead compounds in the bone. Tests that simply reveal the amount of excreted lead and mercury in the urine show superficial and immediate contamination. For this reason, a number of indirect tests are being studied. One important test involves hormonal testing. Relatively inexpensive hormonal panels, studying active metabolites of hormones and related molecules, give the patient a thorough profile to guide therapy. High levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) may indicate a hormonal imbalance related to accumulation of mercury and lead. SHBG is also referred to as Testosterone-estrogen binding globulin, and is not a specific indicator, but does help the physician and patient understand the potential problems related to high SHBG level. SHBG does increase with aging, and could signify overstimulation in the body by estradiol or testosterone, potentially by xeno-estrogens, or industrial chemicals that mimic estrogen, such as the phthalates in many soft plastic containers, i.e. bottled water, or chemical coatings applied to new car seats and steering wheels. Cadmium and mercury accumulation have been shown to inhibit the ability of estradiol to bind in the body, though, and so the test may indicate also that these heavy metal ions have accumulated in the body, resulting in increases production of the binding protein. To fully assess the patient, the physician notes an unusually high SHBG in testing, and assesses the signs and symptoms, as well as the general profile of the patient, to determine that mercury accumulation may be the cause of particular health problems.

Standard diagnosis of lead toxicity should consider a number of different measurements and markers that assess the level or duration of exposure. Until relatively recently, we were mainly concerned only with acute lead, mercury and other heavy metal toxicity, but we now know that almost all pathological metal toxicity is a gradually developing and chronic toxicity. Blood levels of lead at 0.35 ppm, in the liver tissues at 10 ppm, and the kidney cortex at 10 ppm are consistent with lead toxicity, but these need to correlate with pathological signs, such as anemia, hypochromia (red blood cells lack hemoglobin), polychromasia (excess red blood cells), anisocytosis (red blood cells of unequal size), poikilocytosis (abnormally shaped red blood cells), and basophilic stippling. Blood markers of erythrocyte protoporphyrin and delta-aminolevulinic acid are indicators of lead exposure, but not of a disease caused by lead toxicity. More sensitive radiologic imaging may be useful to determine the extent of lead accumulation. Ultimately, the data needs to be gathered from all tests and analyzed, though, to make a real diagnosis. On the other hand, more benign chelation (e.g. calcium EDTA and thiamine, or DMSA) and treatment with N-acetylcysteine, and various antioxidants could be used when lead toxicity is suspected.

Of course, with economic incentives, testing for lead and mercury in the body may be misused to push expensive therapies. Many clinics have used laboratory tests that detect extremely low levels of these heavy metal toxins that are probably found in nearly every aging person in the United States. The resulting alarming test results are used to sell chelating therapies that are sometimes expensive and do not work that well, as well as being potentially toxic. These clinics often use a provocative chelating agent before collecting urine samples in order to increase the levels of excreted heavy metal toxins. Such tests may not show the real levels of heavy metal toxins in the deep tissues, and reveal instead the superficial heavy metal accumulations in the digestive tract. Ethical medical experts in this field now utilize whole blood testing, such as the tests available from Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp. Chelating therapies that are harmless and pose no toxicity are now widely available, and such conservative measures should be utilized before resorting to toxic chelation therapies in all cases that do not pose an immediate risk. Of course, even without such testing, the use of benign chelating agents in guided therapy when heavy metal toxicity is suspected as a cause of health problems is probably a good idea. If it does no harm, there is little reason to avoid benign chelating therapy.

Therapeutic measures that can be taken to try to remove accumulations of heavy metals from the body, or to offset the damage from the toxic lead and mercury accumulations

A number of considerations may be relevant to the use of therapeutic measures to clear heavy metal toxins from the body. Of course, exposure is the most important, but many forms of these organic metal toxins are now ubiquitous in the environment of industrialized countries due to the source from aerosolized smokestack emissions, primarily from coal-fired power plants and smelters. Another consideration should be the occurrence of disease that may be associated with heavy metal toxicities, such as neurological diseases, pancreatic disease, cancers, COPD, etc. A third consideration, often dismissed in the past, is the accumulation in fatty tissues, and the release of heavy metal toxins with weight loss. A 2013 study at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York, found that a review of all scientific literature confirms that human fot stores are a site of chronic accumulation of persistant organic pollutants, acting to protect organ tissues from these toxins. These accumulated toxins are slowly released into the bloodstream to be chelated, but with a period of more extreme weight loss, they can accumulate in the circulation and contribute to disease. It would not hurt to chelate after a more intense period of weight reduction, especially with aging.

Healthy hormonal balance has been found to be a key factor in mercury and heavy metal toxicity as well. In 2004, research at The Genetic Centers of America, in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, by Mark R. Geier and David Geier, found that a relative excess of testosterone and deficiency of estrogens significantly potentiates mercury toxicity. In studies of autism, the amount of mercury preservative in vaccines is no longer an issue, but the relative level of testosterone in amniotic fluid is highly correlated. A number of researched preventive measures of autism, such as chelation before pregnancy, increased glutathione and cysteine, and treatment with growth hormone and secretin, have shown that these treatments lower relative testosterone levels. It was hoped that future research may find that healthy hormonal balance could prevent a host of diseases associated with mercury toxicity, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinsonism, obesity, heart disease, asthma, ALS and autoimmune disorders.

Studies of methylmercury toxicity in humans have shown that the methylmercury in blood is mostly bound to hemoglobin, and the ability of the spleen and liver to remove contaminated red blood cells is important to detox, as is the level of glutathione potential. Selenium has been found to be important to the binding and transport of methylmercury, and maintaining proper levels of selenium, or taking methylselenocysteine when needed could help the body detox organic mercury. Methymercury binds to cysteine and this helps the body to excrete it via the bile system. When the body does detox organic mercury to an inorganic state, through demethylation, increasing antioxidant status is important because this detox creates much oxidant stress. The thyroid may accumulate organic methylmercury even at low levels in the blood and this will affect thyroid function, reducing the conversion of T4 to T3 by deiodination. This creates that reverse T3 syndrome, and current treatment of hypothyroid symptoms with synthetic T4 will not effectively help, as the thyroid mercury accumulation will tend to increase T4 levels. Standard medicine today often just uses the TSH level to diagnose all patients and jumps to prescription of synthetic T4 levothyroxine. This mercury toxicity may explain many of the hypothyroid patients who are not effectively treated today. Immune effects are related to the individual genotype and epigenetic state, but for susceptible individuals autoimmune disease may occur. Immune support and restoration could be important in treatment. Study has shown that sufficient iron and folate levels might reduce the impact of mercury toxicity, and that selenium, vitamin E mixed tocopherols, and omega-3 essential fatty acids might attenuate harm. Garlic is a source of selenium, thiols to aid the glutathione metabolism, and is a chelator. Excess intake of alcohol is shown to potentiate mercury toxicity.

Chelation and Absorption of heavy metal toxins

Removing accumulations of small particle organic lead, mercury and other toxic heavy metals from the body tissues is not easy. Chelation therapy and the use of activated charcoal to absorb these toxins, taken by mouth, are two of the most well know therapies. Chelation in the past has been an often lengthy series of treatments that introduces molecules that bind to the arsenic, lead, mercury, iron, aluminum, zinc etc. It was, and still is, administered intravenously, intramuscularly or by mouth under medical supervision in repeated treatments at in-patient hospital clinics. The treatment is rarely approved in standard medicine unless it is demonstrated that there is an acute poisoning, or that a significant history and laboratory analysis confirms severe toxic accumulation. Some of the chelating agents pose risk and present adverse side effects. Today, safe and effective chelating agents derived from herbal and nutrient medicine are now common, opening this arena of therapy to Complementary Medicine. The chelating agents taken by mouth in standard clinics include DMPS (dimercatpopropane-sulfonate), the choice of doctors in Asia and Europe, but not approved in the U.S., and DMSA (dimercaptopropane-sulfonate), as well as D-pencillamine. There are also newly approved chelation chemicals with proven safety, such as Prussion Blue, Fe7,(CN)18,(H2O)x, which is used to chelate cesium and thallium. Cesium is a radioactive byproduct of nuclear power plants, and thallium is mostly a toxic waste product of electronic plants, but also of pharmaceutical manufacture. The chelation chemicals EDTA, disulfram, Ca-EDTA, DHEG, IDA, EBONTA and Batimastat are also being employed and studied further. There are a growing number of holistic chelation clinics in Asia, Australia and Europe, but as expected, medical doctors in the United States are very skeptical and negative toward this health practice. With increased scientific study, EDTA, chlorella, and a host of nontoxic chelating agents, are now proven to viable, though, and with persistence, will decrease the effects of toxic heavy metal accumulation in the body. In addition, DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid), an organosulfur compound, is increasingly used safely and effectively, but with supervision and a need to supplement essential minerals and various vitamins and amino acids, especially N-acetyl-cysteine, afterward, as DMSA may deplete these chemicals in the body.

Chelation is a natural process in our bodies. The word chelate comes from the Greek word chel, referring to a crab's claw, elucidating the intrinsic manner in which chelating agents bind to metal ions to decrease toxicity. Since charged metal molecules can easily attract to and bind with other molecules, creating an accumulation that is harmful to the animal or plant organism, nature has evolved a number of chelating techniques. The metal ions usually bind quickly to various nutrient acids, such as citric acid, malonic acid, and various amino acids, thereby utilizing the metal ions in a positive manner, or facilitating elimination. This is the simplest form of natural chelation, and citric acid and glycine are the two most prolific chelation agents (glycination). The array of strong and weak chelating agents control the use of and protection from metal ions. Acidity, or pH, also plays an important role in the regulation of natural chelation in the body. Chelation in the soil is an important part of our natural chelation ecology as well, and altering of the natural soils with chemicals has severely depleted this protective chelating mechanism, allowing normally non-toxic metal ion complexes to accumulate in the soils as toxic complexes, which then get into the food plants, feed animals, and ourselves.

There are thus an array of natural chelating agents which can be taken therapeutically, but each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each may be used to target specific toxins. Professional guidance based on sound research is recommended. These chelating agents include citric acid, L-glycine, amino acid combinations, milk thistle, activated charcoal, alfalfa sprouts, dried barleygrass powder, apple pectin, chlorella, spirulina, blue-green algae, mineral chelates (e.g. zinc chelate, calcium chelate, magnesium chelate), garlic, CoQ10, kelp, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), zinc monomethionine, inositol hexaphosphate (IP6), kunbu seaweed, and coral calcium formulas. An array of these can now be obtained in formulas, such as Oral ChelatoRx from Vitamin Research. Many of these chelating agents provide other benefits as well, and act as healthy therapies in holistic treatment. Read on to get more details of these natural chelating agents.

Currently, DMSA is the preferred chemical chelating agent in clinical use, especially for higher levels of mercury accumulation. DMSA also speeds the elimination of arsenic, antimony, bismuth and gold. While DMSA also helps eliminate lead, this process is much slower than the chelating of mercury, as lead is stored more easily in the bones and thus elimination is slow. Nevertheless, DMSA is FDA approved for the chelation of lead toxicity in children. DMSA crosses the blood brain barrier and is rich in sulfur, a magnet for metal ions. There are potential side effects of nausea, headache, and stomach upset, and a monitored low dose is utilized with introduction to avoid these adverse effects. Periodic repletion of essential minerals, vitamins, and amino acids such as N-acetyl cysteine are needed as well during therapy.

Since chelation requires a sulfur donor in the body, compounds such as MSM, which contain sulfur, are theoretically beneficial in this process. Sulfur also aids antioxidant activity, stimulates bile secretion, and protects against toxins and radiation. Sam-E, L-cysteine, zinc methionine (OptiZinc), and supplements that improve the glutathione metabolism, such as glutamic acid, L-cysteine (and N-acetyl cysteine), and L-glycine will also aid in providing the necessary sulfur metabolism to increase the effectiveness of chelation therapy. Taurine is another sulfur source that is beneficial, as are the herbs Sang bai pi, butterbur, stinging nettle, Qian hu, and the foods parsnip, dill, horseradish, cabbage, spinach, radish and cucumber.

Use of more moderate agents includes activated charcoal, which usually presents no ill effects, as well as cathartic and clearing herbal formulas, antioxidants, monofood fasting with fibrous dietary material (e.g. popcorn), and various nutritional supplements that aid the body's natural chelating activity, such as DMSA and EDTA. Activated charcoal is effective with mercury accumulation, but has a poor effect with iron and elemental metals. Periodic low dose activated charcoal is harmless if there is no bowel obstruction present. Activated charcoal is active carbon, a substance that provides a vast molecular surface area for absorption of metal toxins conjugated with carbon (organic molecules). Just one gram of activated carbon has a molecular surface area in excess of 500 square meters in terms of chemical absorption. DMSA is a sulfhydryl-containing substance which binds to mercury, lead, cadmium and zinc, but has some potential side effects and should be monitored under supervision of a Complementary Medicine physician. EDTA, or calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetracetic acid, is combined with other magnesium and potassium salts to aid chelation. Products, such as Oral ChelatoRx by Vitamin Research, combine these chelating mineral salts with chlorella, malic acid, serratopeptase enzyme, and support nutrients, to form a safe and pontentially effective chelating supplement. Alpha-lipoic acid, in combination with Vitamins C, E, B6, coenzyme Q10, milk thistle and SamE will improve the thiol capacity and glutathione levels to assist in detoxification and reduce neurotoxicity. Chlorella, a fresh water algae usually taken as a powder of pill, has been shown to be effective as a chelating detoxifying agent, especially in elimination of cadmium and mercury.

A number of Chinese herbs have been studied and found useful in clinical practice, and an experienced herbalist will be able to prescribe these effectively after specific research is performed. Examples of these herbs include shigao, or gypsum selenite, which normalizes excess sodium electrolytes caused by methylmercury accumulation, and yansui, a dried variety of coriander leaf similar to parsley and cilantro. The herb Phyllanthus emblica, or Yu gan zi, a dried fruit, has been shown to protect against genotoxicity induced by heavy metals such as lead and aluminum. Another Phyllanthus, the leaves of P. urinaria or niruri, called Ye xia zhu, has been shown to be effective in clinical study to treat chronic Hepatitis B. Scutellari baicalensis, or Huang qin, a commonly used Chinese herb, is shown to be a strong chelator of iron accumulation (see study link below). Quercetin, a component of many Chinese herbs, is also shown to effectively modulate iron biochemistry and aid iron chelation, and is found in the herbs Lou bu ma (Apocynum venetum), Sang ji sheng (Loranthus parasiticus), Fan shi liu (Psidium guajava, or Apple guava), Di er cao (Hypericum, or Saint Johns Wort), and Man shan hong (Rhododendron dahuricum). Milk thistle has also been found effective to aid the liver in detoxification of heavy metals. Correct dosage, form and quality, as well as the correct combination with other herbs in formula is important in these therapies. As always, acupuncture is symbiotic with herbal therapy to enhance effects.

Some other harmless therapies could also be effective, and some of these therapies could be used as a preventative method to decrease bioaccumulation with periodic use. These gentler methods of chelation are useful as an added therapy, as healthy habits, or may be utilized during periods when monofood fasting or elimination diets are utilized. Apple pectin binds toxins and metals, aiding excretion, and apple peel contains rutin, a chemical also found in buckwheat sprouts, that has been studied in relation to chelation of iron. Consuming properly prepared dried buckwheat sprouts as a morning supplement is highly recommended, as this supernutrient also contains a variety of antioxidant and detoxifying chemicals. Chelated calcium, or coral calcium, is effective to prevent lead from depositing in the tissues, and quality coral calcium supplements contain a variety of beneficial nutrients that help with this effect. The body has difficulty distinguishing lead and calcium, and thus most organic lead ingestion accumulates in the bone and organs and affect the marrow. Chelated calcium purportedly prevents organic lead and other heavy metals from depositing in our bones and tissues. Organic lead also easily reacts with selenium and depletes this important nutrient, thus periodic selenium supplementation may be important with chronic lead accumulation. Selenium deficiency is associated with hypothyroidism and immune deficiency. Intake of seaweeds and kelp are purported to aid in removing mineral deposits. Kunbu and other seaweeds are widely used therapeutically in Chinese herbal medicine. Sulfur containing amino acids, specifically L-Lysine, L-Cysteine, and L-Cystine, purportedly act as detoxifiers and help remove heavy metal accumulations.

Chlorella is another benign and helpful nutrient supplement that has been proven useful in detoxification and chelation. Japanese research after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki revealed that chlorella, a fresh water blue-green algae like spirulina, increased elimination of cadmium, threefold in feces and sevenfold in urine. In 1979, further Japanese research revealed that chlorella helped detoxify uranium and lead (Horikoshi et al, 1979). More recent studies are promising in data presenting the potential of chlorella to detoxify PCBs and dioxins, and mercury. Utilizing a variety of these chelating and detoxifying aids in combination is recommended due to the difficulty in achieving removal of heavy metal toxins from our cells and tissues. As we see from this article, there is ample evidence that the entire population of the United States is affected by lead and mercury accumulation, as well as a variety of other environmental toxins and metal ions, and we could all benefit from increased adoption of chelating therapies. The emphasis on lead contamination from paint, and mercury from tuna, has led many of us to adopt a false belief that if we avoid these sources we are safe, but this is definately not the case.

Very mild chelating formulas are now available on the market. These usually utilize a combination of EDTA mineral salts, chlorella, aged garlic, serratiopeptidase proteolytic enzyme, and gugulipids. Vitamin Research offers a quality formula called Oral ChelatoRx. EDTA is a widely used initialism for the organic compound ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, which is a polyamino carboxylic acid, and forms strong complexes with metal ions by donation of electron pairs from the nitrogen and oxygen atoms to the metal ion to form multiple chelate rings. EDTA binds metal and mineral ions, especially iron and calcium, and studies show that while this does not eliminate the heavy metal toxins from the body, they do exhibit diminished reactivity. This form or chelation may not decrease lead and mercury accumulation, but would help with patients that are suspected of having calcified tissue irritation, or problems related to iron ion accumulation. Iron ion accumulation is associated with neurodegenerative disorders, tinnitus, postmenopausal osteoporosis, liver cirrhosis, cancer, heart disease, hypothalamic insufficiency, anemia hemochromatosis, and more, and so this form of chelation may be beneficial. The chelating complex offers some mild aid to lead chelation with chlorella, and helps clear tissue accumulations with a number of healthy supplements.

Excess radiation is a concern in our modern world as well. Our bodies receive a natural dosage of radiation and have evolved ways to deal with this potential cause of cancer and other health problems. Unfortunately, man-made sources of radiation have pushed the problem to an extreme, and many forms of radiation are difficult to remove from the body, and thus accumulative. Since radioactive isotopes often have half-lives (time for half of the radiation to dissipate) that exceeds the human life span by many years, our bodies may need help in removing, or chelating, radioactive elements. Nuclear power plants continuously dump radioactive waste into water supplies via "little accidents", storage facilities leak radioactive elements into the water table, and many forms of modern manufacturing and medical treatment now utilize radioactive elements. You may read more about these problems on other articles on this website, entitled CT and CAT: countering the risks and harm of radiation, and Side Effects of Drug Therapies and Radiation. This problem shouldn't be ignored. A number of nutrient and herbal medicines have been studied and found beneficial in chelating of radioactive accumulation in the body. For example, in 2007, the Radiobiology Laboratory of the Department of the Environment in Spain concluded that inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) showed a strong affinity for uranium, and could be a more effective chelating agent than sodium bicarbonate solution, sodium citrate, bicarbonate EHBP, or DTPA (PMID: 17627956). The University of Arkansas Division of Medicinal Chemistry, in 2002, concluded that potential benefits are shown for such radioprotectants as curcumin, a chemical in a number of Chinese herbs, as well as acyl Melatonin homologs, calcium channel blockers (many of which occur naturally in herbal medicine), aminothiols and substituted anilines.

To truly address the issue of lead and mercury accumulation, as well as other heavy metal toxins, and radioactive metal toxins, the patient must be persistent and patient. This toxicity will not clear overnight, and a number of aids to chelation, as well as increased avoidance of heavy metal pollution, should be adopted. The conditions aggravated or caused by lead and mercury accumulation in the body may be gradually improved over a persistent therapeutic course of a few years.

While the individual patient cannot easily reverse the damages caused by airborne lead, mercury and other heavy metals in our environment, the public must insist on immediate implementation of measures to decrease environmental contamination and the immediate cooperation of the industries most at fault, including the coal-fired electrical producers, smelters, mining concerns and other polluting industrial sources. Below are lists of the most harmful heavy metal contaminants and their studied effects.

  • methyl mercury: currently, there are just a few industrial sources of this organic mercury, or mercury atom bonded to a methyl carbohydrate, that are responsible for most of the devastating chronic health problems in our population today. Coal fired electrical power plants are responsible for almost all of this pollution, although waste incineration of the coal sludge and other products that contain inorganic mercury, as well as the Chloralkali process used in the production of chlorine and lye contribute as well. Since methylmercury, or organic mercury, does not eliminate easily from animal tissue, it accumulates in tissues where binding chemicals transport it. Methylmercury also heavily affects electrolyte balance in the circulating blood, contributing to cardiovascular and kidney disease, and affecting acidity in the body. Since methylmercury, and not other forms of inorganic mercury, are combined easily with essential amino acids, these molecules mimic other essential molecules in our body and easily cross our defenses, the blood brain barrier, for instance. This is the reason for the broad array of neurodegenerative effects purportedly caused by or worsened by our ingestion of methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is also found in scientific study to cause or be linked to autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, poor liver function, cancer, peripheral neuropathy, hearing impairment, and other health problems. The 1997 EPA report on mercury health risk stated: "Assessments were made of all three forms of mercury (methylmercury, inorganic mercury, and elemental mercury) for potential human health effects; because exposure to humans is likely to be as ingested methylmercury, that form is emphasized in this volume...The assessment of exposure pathways consequent to emissions of mercury from anthropogenic (manmade, esential coal fired power plants) sources indicates the major exposure to both humans and wildlife is from organic mercury, largely methylmercury, in fish." Since 1997, this assessment has found that more direct and prevalent forms of methylmercury exposure, other than eating predatory fish, are ubiquitous in our environment. Even this 1997 report stated that 90 percent of the total mercury exposure for our agricultural products was from distant sources of airborne emissions, and that the "dominant mercury exposure pathway within the terrestrial food chain is: atmoshpheric mercury to green plants to human consumption." Since 1997, there has been both and explosive growth in this airborne methylmercury, unchecked, and an intense effort to delay implementation of environmental curbs on this unnecessary heavy metal toxicity that has severely damaged the population from fetuses to the elderly.
  • organic lead: technical developments that allowed the measurement of organic lead in our air, specifically from auto exhaust and combined with carbon dioxide, began in 1967, and resulted in the Clean Air Act in 1971. Unfortunately, the major industries learned from these developments how to fight the further regulation of environmental organic lead pollutants. Much of the pertinent information on this contaminant is found in the article above. The clear source of most toxic organic lead is also from smokestack emissions from coal-fired power plants, and the ubiquitous emphasis on lead paint, which is ingested and eliminated without being broken down except in extraordinary circumstances, is just misdirection. Overall, the evaluation of lead as a cause of cancer has been obscured by many studies evaluating the many forms of organic lead compounds. Of course, many types of organic lead have been found to be nontoxic, but this is not proof that industrialized aerosolized organic lead does not cause cancer. Many studies have also involved direct and acute lead toxicity in the workplace, not chronic accumulation of aerosolized organic lead, and found only a small increase in lung cancer risk. Once again, comparing apples to oranges is not helpful. Many studies have shown cancer risks of specific organic lead toxicities, and many studies of more benign forms of lead have not shown cancer risk. This results in much misdirection in public health. The U.S. National Toxicology Program reports that many lead compounds are "reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens", while the World Health Organization has classified inorganic lead compounds as "probably carcinogenic to humans". The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified both organic lead and inorganic lead compounds as "probable human carcinogens". All of these agencies cite the limited study of lead compounds as carcinogens as the reason for this uncertainty, and each of these public health organizations is affected by enormous constraint to not affect big business. These public health organizations present a very conservative view of these issues.
  • organic and inorganic arsenic: finally, in 2013, limits of arsenic in food were finally regulated, as the evidence of harm finally could no longer be ignored. The excuse that we just didn't know exactly how arsenic harms us could no longer be maintained. For over a decade scientists knew that arsenic in several forms could and did cause chronic adverse health problems, disease and cancer. While inorganic arsenic, metabolized in the human organism to a pentavalent state (5 electron bonds, or a high oxidation state) appears to be the most toxic, able to replace phosphate in many important chemical reactions, organic arsenic, in a trivalent state (As III), especially the methylated arsenic, may cause the more severe problems, reacting with thiols in proteins to inhibit their function, and altering DNA methylation to cause or contribute to cancer and diabetes. It is estimated that trivalent arsenic is 60 times more toxic than the pentavalent form, and news reports that the inorganic arsenic is the only threat to health are absolutely a misdirection intended to sow confusion in the public consciousness. The organic forms of arsenic arsenobetaine and arsenocholine are relatively non-toxic and easily excreted, as are other forms of organic arsenic, but the industrialized aerosolized forms of organic arsenic are highly toxic. Inorganic arsenic in the pentavalent states accumulates in the liver, spleen, lung and kidneys, as well as the gastrointestinal linings, and is cleared with biomethylation in the liver, if the liver function is healthy. If the biomethylation is overtaxed and this metabolic pathway is saturated, the deposition of inorganic arsenic compounds in soft tissues accumulates, and inhibits the cell mitochondria and ATP synthesis. In the organic form, trivalent arsenic compounds of certain types may critically inhibit sulfhydryl-containing enzymes. While there is a natural level of both inorganic and organic arsenic in the environment from natural geological sources slowly leaching the metal molecule into our water aquifers, we have of course evolved to handle this level of toxicity. The man-made toxicities are something we have not evolved defenses for, and numerous U.S. EPA Superfund sites exist as proof of harm, many covering a large number of communities impacted by arsenic trioxide and other arsenic compounds in the groundwater and aquifer (e.g. Richland and Sargent Counties in North Dakota; Bucks County, Pennsylvania; Penham and Morris, Minnesota; etc.). In the past, industrial dumping was the problem. Today, mining, fracturing drilling, and industrialization have created many forms of toxic arsenic, and many of them have accumulated in large pools of wastewater. Arsenic toxicity involves inactivation of up to 200 known enzymes, many involved in cellular energy pathways, as well as DNA synthesis and repair. While acute arsenic poisoning is rare, chronic arsenic poisoning is a real threat to the entire population unless we clean up the sources. Chronic arsenic toxicity results in multisystem complex disease and cancer. Arsenic appears to be more difficult to chelate than other metal toxins, and the emphasis in treatment has been with antioxidants and charcoal. Arsenic is one of the most toxic of heavy metal toxins, and in 2001 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowered the permissible level in drinking water to 10 parts per billion from 50 ppb. In the natural environment, areas exposed to high arsenic toxicity have shown that the arsenic becomes more toxic as it is absorbed onto oxyhydroxides of iron, aluminum and manganese, and then dissolved. Arsenic has been used in a wide variety of modern industrial practices, especially in pesticides, pigments, paint manufacture, fungicides, herbicides, wood preservatives, cotton dessicants, manufacture of electronic devices such as diodes, semiconductors, lasers and transistors. Arsenic in some forms has been useful as a medicine, both topically and orally, used to cure syphilis, psoriasis, and even cancers, and is still used to treat acute myelocytic leukemia in the form of arsenic trioxide. Natural arsenic compounds have been used in herbal medicine for many centuries, such a Realgar, or arsenic sulphide, and have been found to be safe. Almost no cases of herbal arsenic toxicity are recorded. Inadvertent arsenic toxicity, when found as a plant contaminant, combined with lead and mercury, is the threat in food and herbs. The trio of organic lead, mercury and arsenic are well known to be the cause or contributor to many neurological diseases, from peripheral neuropathies to neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinsonism and Alzheimer's disease. The most common cancers associated in studies of populations with high exposure to arsenic toxicity are prostate, kidney, bladder, ureter and urethral cancers. While the subject of arsenic in apple juice and rice got in the news after mentioned on the Dr. Oz show, the type of arsenic, not just the level in food, is the real issue, which is not identified with food testing and labeling, or with these headlines. The public needs to be concerned about the rise in industrial arsenic, and especially concerned about the arsenic from Fracking, or fractured drilling for natural gas, which is often left to pool and seep into the water tables and waterways. Arsenic released into the air as arsenic trioxide (As2-O3) is the main precursor to organic arsenic compounds, and approximately 50,000 tonnes are produced annually, mostly from the processing of other minerals, but this form of arsenic has always been considered to be only slightly toxic, historically used in medicinal elixirs (not in recent centuries), and still used as a chemotherapy.
  • cadmium: one of the most toxic heavy metal molecules, as noted in the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances, cadmium does occur naturally in 8 forms, or isotopes, and some forms of cadmium, like most heavy metals, are not very toxic, and were used as medicines for centuries, such as cadmium iodide. Modern industrial chemists found 2 distinct types of cadmium that were very useful, coating iron and steel to prevent corrosion, and the highly toxic form used to stabilize pigments, coatings, platings and metal alloys, and in batteries. Like these other toxic heavy metals, though, most cadmium toxicity in the environment comes from burning fossil fuels and in smelting, as well as concrete production and chemical fertilizers. Individuals exposed to high levels of cadmium toxicity in food crops and water from mining were found to experience kidney disease and dysfunction, as well as breast cancers due to the xenoestrogen effects. Postmenopausal women with mineral deficiencies were most effected. More recent studies show that common environmental levels contribute to breast, endometrial and prostate cancers, as well as osteoporosis. Since airborne organic cadmium is the main source of environmental toxicity, highest levels are derived from smoking tobacco and from foods where this cadmium accumulates on plants and soils.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PARs: Often, sites with arsenic, and other heavy metal toxins will also be found to have a high level of PARs as well. This, of course, indicates that the toxic metals are linked to waste from fossil fuel burning or fracking, and are probably organic compounds. The burning of coke, a dirty form of oil, is also a predominant source, and the shale oil sites produce a lot of this heavy polluting coke. Industrial sources include manufacture of pigments, dyes, plastics, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, preservatives, and agrochemicals, but these sources would imply dumping.

Information Resources and Links to Scientific Studies

Numerous research studies have demonstrated both the demographic links of neurodegenerative diseases and fetal harm to such contaminants as airborne lead and mercury, as well as the evidence of pathophysiology. The United States government established the Evironmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act partly in response to these scientific findings, but repeated undermining of the legislation and enforcement due to industry lobbying has maintained a high level of harm to the American public. These resources will help clarify some of the information:

  1. Medscape gives a conservative but reasonable history of the issue of mercury contamination at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/504642. Unfortunately, this article was pulled from free access. You may try researching with key words to find it. I am attempting to find the article in anther link.
  2. A thorough review of the unfortunate history of organic methylmercury toxicity by experts at the University of Southern Denmark and the Harvard School of Public Health shows that we have known and continue to ignore the widespread health threat from organic methylmercury toxicity, allowing the difficulties of standardized guidelines and studies to diagnose and acknowledge this ubiquitous public health threat to delay public protection. This is leading to, and has created, an enormous amount of harm to health, and delays sensible treatment and prevention: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920086/
  3. A 2012 review of organic methylmercury exposure by experts at the Dong-A University College of Medicine and the Catholic University Pusan College of Health Science, in South Korea, while still repeating some common misinformation on the subject of mercury contamination, such as the often repeated misconception that all of the mercury in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is inorganic, which has been corrected in recent governmental reports, still provides us with much pertinent information. For instance, this 2012 report states that no studies published in South Korea measures the methylmercury in blood samples in population studies, just the total mercury, an amazing and dangerous fact. This study also reveals that about 100 percent of organic methylmercury is absorbed due to the natural conjugation with cysteine, a key amino acid related to homocysteine and protein hormones, that 95 percent of methylmercury is absorbed by the lungs, that it does have high fat solubility, that it thus affects all membranes, that the body tries to convert it to inorganic bivalent mercury to detox but that this causes much oxidative stress, that methylmercury in a pregnant female results in fetal brain accumulation of 1.7 to 4.8 times that of the mother, and that methylmercury is very neurotoxic, affects reproductive health dramatically, is toxic to the immune system, contributes heavily to cancers, especially lung, stomach, brain, and kidney cancers, and creates much cardiovascular disease. The level of accumulative toxicity in guidelines has been lowered dramatically in the last decade or so, showing that we have largely ignored this ubiquitous health threat and continue to ignore the real level of threat: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3514465/
  4. A 2016 report on organic methylmercury and the enormous public health threat by the World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs361/en/
  5. The U.S. Geological Survey also gives a conservative but reasonable account of the issue of mercury contamination at: http://www.usgs.gov/themes/factsheet/146-00/
  6. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also gives a conservative but reasonable account of the issue of mercury contamination at: http://www.epa.gov/hg/eco.htm
  7. The U.S. government provides facts on pollutants in groundwater and health effects which clarifies the issues of organic metals versus inorganic metals at: http://www.soil.ncsu.edu/publications/Soilfacts/AG-439-14/index.htm
  8. A 2003 U.S. Superfund, or CERCLA priority list of environmental toxins lists Arsenic, Lead and Mercury at the top 3, and Cadmium at 7, with Chromium at 17, but a number of other environmental toxins are still of great concern with accumulation in the enviroment, in our bodies, slow breakdown of the chemical bonds, and an array of health problems that are caused, with more dire information uncovered each year. In 2002, the IUPAC also noted that we need a better system to classify what we call "heavy metal toxins" to reflect actual types of molecules and physical harm, and ignoring such classification is hampering our ability to both regulate and treat these toxins and associated health problems: http://faculty.fgcu.edu/twimberley/EnviroHealthA/EnviroHealth/FriisChapter6Slides.pdf
  9. A 2002 report by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) outlined the facts about metal ion toxicity and the long history of terms such as "heavy metal" and "toxic metals" that have no basis in scientific fact. Here, John H. Duffus of The Edinburgh Centre for Toxicology, in the United Kingdom, explains that there are real measures of metal toxicity, and a need for a factual classification. Here, we see that the issue of toxicity with metal chemicals was first defined by Paracelsus, and is based on a number of factors, including the toxic dosage, as well as the complex molecules that are formed with the metal: http://www.szennyviztudas.bme.hu/files/iupac%20heavy%20metals.pdf
  10. We see that a number of toxins listed in the top 20 environmental health threats often form complex molecules in the air and affect the human organism in different ways, depending on such conjugation. Here we see a study that shows that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons often form such complexes with toxic lead, mercury and cadmium, affecting the way the body responds and stores the heavy metal toxin and the chemical toxin: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11408366
  11. A list of the wide variety of common health problems from lead bioaccumulation can be seen at: http://www.lead.org.au/fs/fst7.html
  12. PubMed gives a technical but pertinent account of scientific study of methylmercury health problems at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7179304
  13. A 2015 position paper on the risk assessment and health effects of mercury toxicity provides a wealth of data: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/air/pdf/pp_mercury6.pdf
  14. Further PubMed citations give a technical overview of the effects of selenium on methylmercury in scientific study of methylmercury health problems at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/363410
  15. A 2010 study at China Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan, found that even inorganic mercury causes pancreatic beta-cell death via direct oxidative stress: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20006636
  16. A 2006 study at National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan, found that organic methylmercury induces pancreatic beta-cell death and dysfunction, the cause of true diabetes: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16918248
  17. A 2008 study at the National Institute for Minamata Disease in Kunamoto, Japan, found that organic methymercury affected the immune system and cell signalling pathways, creating damage to both cell mitochondria and membranes, leading to cell death and dysfunction in muscle stem cell lines, or myogenic cell lines. The implications for a variety of related diseases is apparent, especially autoimmune muscular disease such as dermatomyositis. Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome with ataxia, numbness in the extremities, muscle weakness, and narrowing of the fields of vision and hearing, caused by organic mercury poisoning. How many mild cases of neuopathy could be caused by the ubiquitous mercury contamination in our environment can only be speculated upon: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17920127
  18. A definitive study of the effect of air pollution on asthma in 2010, by the University of California Berkeley, U.S.A., found that chemicals in air pollution such as organic lead and mercury from coal-fired power plants and smelters could alter the expression of genes related to the regulatory T cells of the immune system (Treg), altering the ability of the body to control immune reactivity to non-pathogenic substances in the body, and this was highly associated with onset of severe asthma. Past studies failed to find the definitive link between such air pollution and the cause of the associated asthma, and this study finally and definitively shows direct pathological cause: http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/article/24239
  19. A 2008 study in Poland showed that workers exposed to organic mercury vapors experienced damaging effects to red blood cells, with increased red blood cell (erythrocyte) counts, but decreased average red blood cell volume and hemoglobin concentration, as well as damaging changes in the red blood cell metabolism. These lab findings would not lead to a clear diagnosis of common anemia, and such findings often go undiagnosed and untreated: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17784549
  20. A 2011 United States Environmental Protection Agency report on the new rules regarding limits of emissions of mercury and toxic gases from power plants and the economic and health benefits estimated: http://www.epa.gov/mats/pdfs/20111221MATSsummaryfs.pdf
  21. Life Extension provides a useful synopsis of chelation and detoxification of heavy metal contamination at: http://www.lef.org/protocols/prtcl-156b.htm
  22. The FDA provides an explanation and history of Prussian Blue as an approved chelation therapy for cesium and thallium: http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/infopage/prussian_blue/Q&A.htm#4
  23. Japanese study with Coriandrum sativum, or Yan Sui, a Chinese herb: http://sciencelinks.jp/j-east/article/200303/000020030302A0929351.php
  24. The EPA presents additional information summary of air pollutants that is outdated but informational at: http://www.epa.gov/Region7/programs/artd/air/quality/health.htm
  25. Pesticides that bioaccumulate and cause neurodegenerative damage and should be eliminated from the environment, such as lindane, are explained at: http://www.headlice.org/lindane/_world/environment/pops.htm
  26. A joint American Japanese study of some of the effects of divalent mercury compounds can be seen at: http://www.cell.com/biophysj/abstract/S0006-3495(00)76386-7
  27. A Japanese study of clean coal technology can be seen at: http://www.brain-c-jcoal.info/cctinjapan-files/english/2_5B4.pdf
  28. A June 3, 2010 article in the New York Times reports that finally, after 40 years, the United States has finally lowered sulfur dioxide emission standards, by half, to 95 parts per billion, measured hourly. This will require the long-awaited actual air scrubbers to be applied to coal fired power plants that were suggested in 1971 and highly urged in 1985 by the Clean Air Act: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/04/science/earth/04sulfur.html
  29. A July 7, 2010 article in the New York Times reports that the EPA, acting under a federal court order of the Obama Administration, has issued new rules for coal fired power plants to significantly reduce sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides with scrubbers, which will result in an estimated $120 billion savings on total health care expenditures, and much suffering, and finally succeeds in instituting rules that were delayed for years under the Bush administration. New rules for lead and mercury are soone to be announced as well: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/science/earth/07epa.html
  30. An August 9, 2010 report in the New York Times announced that the EPA, under the Obama administration, is finally setting the first limits ever for mercury emissions at cement factories. This enforcement will push the industry away from the Portland cement manufacture to the adoption of manufacture of cleaner manufacturing techniques pioneered in China, and greatly reduce green house gas emissions: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/10/us/10brfs-MERCURYLIMIT_BRF.html
  31. A 2014 article in Rolling Stone magazine provided a thorough history of one of the leading contributors to environmental toxicity, Koch Industries Inc. and their long history of financing a political movement to end all government regulation of business and environmental protection, which they consider a repressive and totalitarian act, curbing the freedom to destroy the health of our children for as much profit as can be generated: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/inside-the-koch-brothers-toxic-empire-20140924?page=3
  32. A 2014 CBS News article outlining the amazingly egregious act of actually pumping tons of heavy metal sludge from holding lakes of coal ash sludge in North Carolina by Duke Energy in order to prevent more holding lake collapses, like the one on February 2, 2014 that created a 70-mile slick of this very toxic material on the Dan River: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/duke-energy-pumped-coal-ash-into-nc-river-regulators-say/
  33. A 2013 meta-review of scientific study of accumulative and persistant organic pollutants in human fatty tissues, by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York, New York, showed that such toxins, including organic lead, mercury and arsenic compounds, may be stored in fatty tissue via a number of metabolic pathways, released slowly into the bloodstream to be chelated, but with more extreme weight loss, a large toxic burden may result: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23221922
  34. A 2004 study by The Genetic Centers of America found that relatively higher levels of testosterone and lowered estrogens were highly correlated with mercury toxicity in amniotic fluid, and risk of autism. This steroid hormone pathway is investigated and explained, and the hope that improved hormonal balance could reduce a variety of diseases associated with mercury toxicity is expressed by these experts: http://img2.timg.co.il/forums/75877818.pdf
  35. A 2013 study and review by the U.S. FDA found that over 10 percent of commercial apple juice now contains a level of toxic arsenic that is higher than that allowed in drinking water, showing the ubiquitous contamination of toxic forms of arsenic in the environment and food supply, largely from excess use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. While it is suggested that simple regulation of apple juice is the answer, a reasonable person sees that we need to address the sources of this ubiquitous arsenic toxicity: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/07/12/201489247/how-much-arsenic-is-safe-in-apple-juice-fda-proposes-new-rule
  36. An informative website entitled chemicalsandnature.blogspot.com shows the biochemical effects of arsenic, cadmium and lead, and how excess arsenic originates with overuse of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides: http://chemicalsandnature.blogspot.com/2011/08/biochemical-effects-of-arsenic-cadmium.html
  37. A 2011 review of scientific studies on arsenic toxicity and oxidative stress, at the Defense Research and Development Establishment in Gwalior, India, found that N-acetyl cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin E, quercetin, and a few herbal extracts, showed significant prophylactic activity against arsenic toxicity, and may be useful to treat most arsenic-related injuries to health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21554949
  38. A 2015 study at Tongji Medical College and the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, in Wuhan, China, showed that the supplement Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) was very effective in helping clear cadmium toxicity in human liver cells, and increased the glutathione capacity by increasing the activity of key enzymes that regulate the rate of glutathione biosynthesis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26365678
  39. A 2014 study of the capacity of garlic to reduce cadmium toxicity, by the Prince of Songkia University Hat Yai, on Songkhia, Thailand, found that pickled garlic has more potential than fresh garlic, and that extracts of pickled garlic could supply significant benefit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25493198
  40. A 2015 study at the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health in Poland shows that deficient selenium levels are associated with lead toxicity and deficient glutathione activity of detoxification. While it is hard to definitively prove that selenium supplement would effectively treat lead toxicity, the use of methylselenocysteine supplement is safe and beneficial, inexpensive, and can be part of a holistic treatment plan: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26179085
  41. A 2007 study at the Defence Research and Development Establishment, at Gwalior, India, found that a combination of heavy metal toxin chelators are recommended to insure better outcomes ins clearing arsenic and lead accumulation: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17519110
  42. A 2009 study at the University of Massachusetts Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry found that baicalein and baicalin, 2 active chemicals in the Chinese herb Huang qin (Scutellaria baicalensis) are strong iron chelators. These herbal chemicals act via a combination of chelation and free radical reactive oxidant scavenging mechanisms, and may play a vital role in modulating the body's iron homeostasis. These researchers also found that the herbal chemicals inhibit Fenton chemistry, by which free iron in the body is oxidized to active iron and reactive oxygen molecules: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19108897
  43. A 2007 study at the University of Massachusetts Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry also found that many herbal and nutrient phenolics, such as quercetin, a component of many Chinese herbs, have strong iron-binding and chelating effects, working with common iron chelators such as ATP and citrate to both chelate iron toxicity and provide free radical oxidant scavenging: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17992280
  44. A 2002 study published in Ceon Biblioteka Nauki / Toxicology Letters, by Michael F. Hughes, outlines the then-known toxic effects of both inorganic and organic arsenic: http://yadda.icm.edu.pl/yadda/element/bwmeta1.element.elsevier-7777b73d-c881-32d9-ad77-aa9c32b6a5f8
  45. A 2003 review of arsenic toxicity, published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and compiled by researchers at the University of Adelaide, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Australia: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1742758/pdf/v079p00391.pdf