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Health Protocols

Heavy Metal Detoxification

Risk Factors for Toxic Metal Exposure

Exposure of the general population to toxic metals may come from the environment or home and can be acute or chronic. It may result from contaminated food, air, water, or dust; living near a hazardous waste site or manufacturing plant that releases metal contaminants; overexposure to metal-containing pesticides, paints, or cosmetics; or improper disposal or cleanup of toxic metal-containing items (such as a broken thermometer).

Exposure risks for specific metals include:


  • Lead-containing plumbing (lead pipes or plumbing solder; in 2007, it was estimated that less than 1% of the public water systems in the United States had lead levels above 5 µg/L) (ATSDR 2007b)
  • Lead-based paints (in buildings built before 1978; this is the predominant source for children) (EPA 2013)
  • Leaded gasoline (although banned in the United States in 1995 for automobiles, previous usage has widely dispersed it in the environment) (Miranda 2011)
  • Foods grown in lead-rich soil (ATSDR 2008a)


  • Eating fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury (the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has set a maximum permissible level of 1 part of methylmercury in a million parts of seafood [1 ppm]) (ATSDR 2001). Ocean fish commonly high in mercury include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish (Defilippis 2010). Levels of mercury above 1 ppm have also been found in predatory and bottom-dwelling freshwater fish (including bass, walleye, and pickerel) from mercury-contaminated waters (ATSDR 2001)
  • Breathing contaminated workplace air or skin contact during use in the workplace (certain medical and dental treatments as well as chemical or other industries that use mercury) (ATSDR 2000)
  • Release of mercury vapor from dental amalgam fillings (although the FDA deems amalgam fillings safe) (Bernhoft 2012; Jang 2011; Rusyniak 2010; FDA 2009)
  • Contact with elemental mercury from the following household devices: thermometers (the amount of elemental mercury from a broken thermometer spilled in a small, enclosed space can cause systemic toxicity if not properly cleaned up), fluorescent and mercury vapor lamps, thermostats, manometers/barometers, and wall switches manufactured before 1991 (Caravati 2008)
  • Skin-lightening products and antiseptics that contain mercury salts (Park 2012)


  • Groundwater near arsenic-containing mineral ores
  • Wood preservatives (found in treated wood products manufactured before 2004) and antifouling paints
  • Some insecticides, herbicides (weed killers and defoliants), fungicides, cotton desiccants, paints and pigments
  • Seafood (shellfish, certain cold water and bottom-feeding finfish, and seaweed contain organic arsenic compounds with low acute toxicity) (ATSDR 2007a)


  • Tobacco smoke (cadmium can concentrate in tobacco leaves)
  • Eating foods containing cadmium (levels are highest in grains, legumes, and leafy vegetables, and cadmium can bioaccumulate in fish and shellfish)
  • Contact with cadmium from household products (electric batteries and solar panels) (Nogué 2004; ATSDR 2012a)