This blog is a way of sharing the information and resources that have helped me to recover my son Roo from an Autism Spectrum Disorder. What I have learned is to view our symptoms as the results of underlying biological cause, which can be identified and healed. I say "our symptoms" because I also have a neuro-immune disorder called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

And, of course, I am not a doctor (although I have been known to impersonate one while doing imaginative play with my son)- this is just our story and information that has been helpful or interesting to us. I hope it is helpful and interesting to you!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Environmental Sources of Toxic Metals

With so much talk of metal toxicity, people often wonder where exactly these exposures to metals come from.  Some of these sources are avoidable, or can at least be mitigated, so knowledge is definitely power here.  Some of the sources listed below are well-known, such as the risk of mercury from fish, but some are very little known.  This is not an exhaustive list and I will be adding more information as I find it.  This post focuses specifically on the metals...if you are interested in sources form toxins in general see this post.


Emissions from coal-fired power plants contain lead, arsenic and mercury.  The waste from burning coal, called coal ash or fly ash, is also very toxic and contains as many as 25 toxic heavy metals as well as other toxins and known carcinogens.  It is very hard to contain this ash and it often gets blown out of uncovered train cars and seeps out of storage into groundwater.  This page from a county in GA facing legislation that would allow this ash to be transported from out-of-state summarizes the hazards of coal ash quite well.

Mapping Coal Ash Contamination

Consumer Reports found toxic metals in each of 15 protein drinks that they tested, including lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic.

Testing of consumer products for the HealthyStuff database has found toxic metals (including lead, cadmium, bromine, mercury and arsenic) in consumer products as varied as toys, clothing, handbags, pet supplies and children's car seats.

This blog post from You Are What You Eat includes a very long list of results of XRF testing on various household items, toys, cookware, etc.  Many of these items had dangerous levels of cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury.  There has been concern for some time about the possibility of lead in crock pots.  I tried to find a source for this concern, but couldn't.  I did find one blog post in which a number of crocks were tested with an XRF gun and none of them contained lead.  This list from You Are What You Eat, however, does contain findings for dangerous levels of several metals in some crocks. 

Himalayan sea salt has been found to contain lead, mercury, and aluminum among other things.


Aluminum is a common contaminant of food and contributes 25 times more aluminum than that found in drinking water.

High levels of aluminum have been found in infant formula

Several types of aluminum salts are used in antipersperants.

Aluminum can leach from cookware and food storage containers.

Aluminum in drinking water has been shown to increase inflammation in the brain

Fluoride increases the toxicity of aluminum in drinking water

Study finds that aluminum in IV feeding solutions for preterm infants can be neurotoxic

Aluminum can also come from some medications (including antacids), water treatment methods (including fluoridation), food additives (including baking powder), and from aluminum-lined beverage containers (such as soda cans and Capri-Sun type drink pouches).  More here.


Arsenic in Food from the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program

Arsenic in Your Food by Consumer Reports (from 2012)

A follow-up report in 2014 found even higher levels of arsenic in many rice products

Arsenic In Chicken Feed May Pose Health Risks To Humans
Article on Grist about arsenic in rice and how it got there.

More on arsenic in rice

Arsenic levels are especially high in rice bran

Arsenic has also been found in rice milks

Arsenic in juice

Arsenic is heavily used in vineyards and can be in wine in high levels.

Arsenic has also been used in treating lumber and wood (such as bark chips)


Cadmium can be found in children's jewelry.

Significant amounts of cadmium can leach from dishes

Information about additional sources of cadmium, including cigarettes, batteries, pigments, and fertilizer can be found here, as well as information about the effects of cadmium toxicity.

Lead and cadmium found in chocolate


Thousands of towns and areas in the US have high levels of lead poisoning, much of it from contaminated water.

Lead and cadmium found in chocolate

Lead found in children's foods and baby foods from The Environmental Law Foundation

Long list of children's food and drink products that contained high levels of lead when tested.

Lead found in 20% of baby food samples, especially juices and veggies
Lead contamination lingers on sites where factories once smelted metals 

LED light bulbs contain lead (and arsenic)

Lead in children's toys and jewelry. A list of some of the toys and jewelry recalled due to lead toxicity. 

A recall of black licorice due to high lead levels.

Lead was found by the FDA in all lipstick samples tested.

Old bath tubs can be a source of lead exposure.

Fidget spinners have a very high level of lead and mercury

Lead exposure can come from contaminated items and unexpected sources


Harvard researchers warn of legacy mercury in the environment. 

How mercury enters the environment.

Mercury in food and products.

Mercury has been in found in fog along the west coast and is getting into the food chain that way.

This page from the NRDC has information about where the mercury that gets into our seafood comes from.  Sources include coal-fired power plants, boilers, steel production, incinerators, cement plants, gold mining, and in the manufacturing of cement, metal, chlorine, and PVC (which can also contain lead).  Mercury is part of many consumer products including batteries, thermometers, electronics and car parts.  Cosmetics and antiseptics can also contain mercury.

NRDC's Consumer Guide to Mercury in Fish

Sierra Club article about mercury in fish and sushi.

Mercury has been found in High-Fructose Corn Syrup and foods containing HFCS.

Dental amalgam, used to fill cavities, is about 50% mercury by weight.

Mercury content in batteries.

Fidget spinners have a very high level of lead and mercury

Map shows the top 100 emitters of mercury in the US including coal-fired power plants, mines, petroleum refineries and paper factories.

More on mercury released from gold mining, specifically about mines polluting water in Utah and Idaho.

Medications that contain mercury (or did as of 1998)

CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) contain mercury, which is released when they are broken or not disposed of properly.  More on this topic from the Los Angeles Times.

Information from the EPA about the mercury in CFLs, including instructions for cleanup if one gets broken, and how to recycle them.

Vaccines continue to be a source.  The flu shot contains enough mercury that unused shots must be disposed of as toxic waste.  You can find more information about the current state of mercury in vaccines at SafeMinds.   Vaccines that are labeled "mercury free" or "preservative free" are still allowed to contain enough mercury to qualify them as toxic waste.

Mercury can be found in cosmetics:
skin lightening creams
mascara and other eye makeup

Cleaning up the Willamette- Mercury Pollution (of relevance to citizens of OR)

Mercury is sometimes used in agricultural products, such as fungicides.

Mercury: How To Get This Lethal Poison Out Of Your Body
Volcanic eruption is one source of mercury in the environment "(t)here were small peaks in mercury concentration in the ice core from the 1815 Tambora volcanic eruption in Indonesia, the 1850-84 gold rush in California where mercury was used for smelting, the eruption in 1883 of the Sumatran volcano Krakatau 10,000 miles away, and the more recent Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980."

"Overall, the changes in environmental mercury levels have been dramatic. Over the past 100 years, there has been a 30-fold increase in mercury deposition, 70 percent of which is from human sources.  In fact, there was an exponential peak in mercury occurring in the last 40 years due to major industrialization. Much of this mercury comes from coal-fired industrial plants and from chlor-alkali plants that use mercury in the process of making chlorine used in plastics, pesticides, PVC pipes, and more."


Tungsten has been found in high amounts in some gluten-free flours and other foods.