High levels of the heavy metals cadmium, lead and arsenic, which have recently been found in South African pineapples due for export, are a serious health threat.
According to the Cape Times (6 July 2007), local farmers unwittingly used the contaminated fertiliser, which was imported from China to cultivate their pineapple crops.
None of the contaminated fruit will be sold to local or international consumers and therefore doesn’t pose an immediate risk. However, elevated levels of heavy metals found in our food supply are reason for concern.
Metals such as cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury, which have a high density, are often implicated in human poisoning. Some heavy metals, such as zinc, copper and chromium, are required by the body in small amounts, but large doses are toxic.
Environmental sources of heavy metals include air emissions from coal-burning plants, smelters and waste incinerators, and wastes from mining and industry. We can be exposed to heavy metals through air pollution and contaminated food, water and soil.
Research shows that cadmium might increase the risk of breast cancer for pregnant women and their female offspring. Cadmium mimics the effects of the female hormone oestrogen – a situation that could trigger the development of the hormone-sensitive cancer.
The metal is also known to damage the lungs and kidneys and can also cause bone loss.
Children six years and younger are most at risk from lead poisoning because their bodies and nervous systems are still developing.
Lead poisoning in children, even at low levels, can cause developmental problems, learning disabilities, impaired hearing and behavioural problems.
The primary sources of lead exposure for children are deteriorating lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust and lead in residential soil.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in food, drinking water and the environment. But exposure to high levels of the inorganic form, such as that found in wood preservatives, insecticides and weed killers, can be deadly.
Studies have linked long-term arsenic exposure in drinking water to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidneys, nasal passages, liver and prostate. It is also associated with cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunologic, neurologic and endocrine problems.
-(Health24, HealthDayNews, July 2007)
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