What is a Toxic Metal?

A toxic metal is any metallic element that can potentially pose a risk to either the environment or human health. Also known as “heavy metals,” these elements are everywhere in the earth. They make up the earth’s crust and we encounter them everyday. The ground we walk on, the air we breathe and the products we use all contain metallic elements. 

However, when these elements are presented in large quantities; that is when they become a significant health hazard. 

In this blog, we discuss common toxic metals, where they are found, their health risks and what preventable measures you can take to avoid contact with hazardous levels.

The Most Common Toxic Metals

Metals are everywhere. And they don’t become particularly harmful until there are large amounts of them. When those large amounts do make themselves present, however, it’s important to know the risks they can pose to human health. 

If you are overexposed to certain levels of metallic toxicity, it can cause serious health issues and even death in some cases. 

While they are more common in certain industries, the inhalation of metal-contaminated fumes or dust can happen at any given time.

From factories, old lead paint, mercury-filled fish, certain medicines and more, the risks are everywhere. 

The most common types of dangerous toxic metals when in large amounts are the following:

  • Arsenic
  • Beryllium
  • Cadmium
  • Hexavalent Chromium
  • Lead 
  • Mercury


Arsenic can be found in high amounts in areas of hazardous wastes. Levels of natural arsenic can also occur in rocks, soil and water. When disturbed, the levels become concentrated and present serious threats to health.


Exposure to beryllium usually happens in the mining industries. The extraction and processing of alloy metals that contain beryllium is one of the more common ways that workers become exposed.


This very toxic metal can be found in industrial workplaces that process/smelt ore. Cadmium can be found in alloys or with silver solders.

Hexavalent Chromium

When chromate is produced or when pigments containing chromate are produced, workers become at risk for harmful effects that come from these human carcinogens. Hexavalent chromium can come in the form of calcium chromate, lead chromate, zinc chromate, strontium chromate and chromium trioxide. 


Overexposure to lead is probably the most common in the workforce. The dominant industries exposed to lead are construction work, radiator repair shops, smelter operations and firing ranges.


Like lead, mercury is another common element that can frequent workplaces. In industries such as production, mining, refining of gold and silver, and transportation of mercury, large quantities can present significant health hazards. 

Heavy Metal Poisoning

Heavy metal poisoning occurs when these metallic elements (along with others) are ingested or inhaled. Large quantities of these metals can cause serious, serious health concerns. It’s important to stay informed on the symptoms that can occur if you or someone you know has either acute or chronic poisoning from metal consumption. 

Acute Poisoning

Acute poisoning is what happens when someone is exposed to high volumes of metallic elements at once. This can happen in a factory explosion or accidental consumption of the element. 

We have compiled a list of symptoms that are prevalent when someone comes into contact with large quantities of the following metals: 

  • Arsenic- diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, painful neuropathy, cardiac arrhythmia. 
  • Beryllium- sensitization, skin and lung disease, pneumonitis, dyspnea, pharyngitis
  • Cadmium- inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis)
  • Hexavalent Chromium- renal failure, gastrointestinal hemorrhage
  • Lead- nausea, vomiting, brain dysfunction (encephalopathy)
  • Mercury- fever, vomiting, diarrhea


Chronic Poisoning

Chronic poisoning, unlike acute, happens over a long duration of time. Sometimes over years of exposure, this type of metallic poisoning can be harder to recognize. As the metal begins to build up in your body, sickness and disease can progress.

Here are the common symptoms for this type of metallic exposure:

  • Arsenic- cancer, diabetes, hypopigmentation
  • Beryllium- lung inflammation, nodules on bodily tissues, chest pain, fatigue, fever
  • Cadmium- lung cancer, osteomalacia, proteinuria
  • Hexavalent Chromium- pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer
  • Lead- foot/wrist drop, nephropath, anemia, encephalopathy
  • Mercury- nausea, stomatitis, tremor, neurasthenia, nephrotic syndrome


How to Avoid Metal Poisoning

Heavy metal poisoning can cause serious harm to people who are exposed in large quantities. It’s important to make sure your workplace or home is free from exposure to these metals in significant doses. To best avoid this type of poisoning, whether acute or chronic, be sure to have suspected materials and locations properly tested with accredited testing supplies

As a certified laboratory, EHS will ensure the safest practices for the health of people and the environment. 

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