Edited by Robert U. Ayres and Leslie W. Ayres
30. Risks of metal ﬂows and accumulation Jeroen B. Guinée and Ester van der Voet* Heavy metals are key issues in environmental policy and management. Environmental problems related to heavy metals have a long history. Heavy metals, despite the fact that some metals are essential elements, have toxic properties leading to adverse eﬀects on human and ecosystem health even in small doses. Another problem-causing property is their non-degradability: once they enter the environment they will remain there for a long time. Metals tend to accumulate in soils and sediments, with real immobilization due only to geological, and therefore extremely slow, processes. Accumulation in the food chain may lead to an increased stock in biota, thereby magnifying the human dose. Well-known examples of metals poisoning in past centuries include the lead poisoning from water pipes in ancient Rome and the mercury poisoning of the ‘mad hatters’ in Europe (Markham 1994; O’Carroll et al. 1995). In this century we have seen, among other cases, the tragedy of mercury poisoning in the Minamata Bay in Japan through consumption of sea food, that of cadmium poisoning through consumption of polluted rice and that of arsenic in Bangladesh tube wells (Pearce 2000). Lead in paint, used extensively in many older slum buildings, has caused serious health problems in many cities, especially for children. These and similar incidents have spurred governments to implement environmental policies and industries to reduce their emissions signiﬁcantly (OECD 1993c, 1994b). Comparing current emissions from industrial and other point...
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