Heavy Metals and Their Uptake By Plants

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Heavy Metals and Their Uptake by Plants What are Heavy Metals? Heavy metals are natural constituents of the Earth's crust and trace amounts are always present in biological materials. They are defined more specifically as electropositive elements having a density greater than five. Some examples of heavy metals are mercury, plutonium, uranium, chromium, and lead. What are their effects on the environment? Small amounts of some of these metals are necessary for proper life functions, but too much can cause sickness or even death. Their major routes of exposure are inhalation and ingestion. These metals are absorbed very easily into the brain and lead is accumulated in the bone. Heavy metals can also damage animals in the wilderness. How can they be removed? They can be removed in many ways, including acid leaching and delectroosmosis, or immobilization by vitrification. These methods remove all biological activity from the treated material. They are also expensive and often require special equipment and specially trained operators. Phytoremediation and rhizofiltration are two cost effective, environmentally sound methods of removing heavy metals. These processes are defined as the use of plant roots to remove toxic heavy metals from water or soil. This technology will lead to improved and lower cost methods for conserving water resources and restoring water quality. The plants utilized are called hyperaccumulators. These hyperaccumulators accumulate the metals mostly in the leaf and stem vacuoles. Some terrestrial plants used include Indian mustard and sunflower. The main problems with these new methods include the fact that most hyperaccumulators are fairly rare and the disposal of large amounts of harvested metal-enriched biomass. What is plutonium? Plutonium is one of the most toxic materials known to man. It is a manmade byproduct of nuclear reactions. It has been shown that plants tend to absorb plutonium very well, although the mechanism that accomplishes this is not yet known. Five processes each influence the uptake of heavy metals, including plutonium, by plants; these are mobilization, root absorption, complexation, transport, and compartmentalization. Many common plant species are being tested for the ability to absorb dangerous heavy metals, like plutonium. Some of these test species are clover, soybean, tomato, pea, oat, barley, and corn. What is Mercury? Found in red sulfide and other ores containing compounds of zinc, tin and copper, rocks such as limestone, sandstone, shale, balsalt, and fossil fuels, mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal. The larger part of atmospheric mercury is present in vapor form. This is often removed through precipitation into water and works its way up the aquatic food chain until, finally, humans can come in contact with it and, in big enough quantities become ill from mercury poisoning. Humans can also come in contact with mercury in freak accidents in labs or broken mercury thermometers. In most cases, exposures are identified because symptoms develop. What is lead? Lead is yet another poisonous heavy metal. Most exposure has been prevented with the elimination of leaded gasoline and paint. Also, it is now illegal to use lead solder on food and drink cans. Still, older buildings often still have lead paint. Therefore, low-income Hispanic and African-American children living in major cities have the highest lead levels (10 micrograms/ deciliter). There is also the question of the transfer of lead through breast milk, but since very low levels of lead actually end up in the milk, this is still safe. Lead poisoning is also usually caught early, due to extensive screening processes. Are Heavy Metals dangerous to humans? Certain heavy metals, namely lead and mercury, are incredibly poisonous to humans. Key symptoms of lead poisoning are gastr

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