& Recycling Program
Waste Management & Recycling Program
Heavy Metals and Chemicals
Special Thanks To:
P.O. Box 54, Scarborough, ME 04070
Mercury is one of the most serious threats
to humans and the environment.
Disposing mercury-containing products(e.g. thermometers, thermostats) into municipal waste incinerators and landfills disperses mercury into the food chain where it contaminates fresh water and ocean fish. A typical mercury thermometer can contaminate a 20-acre lake for a year. Mercury has become so prevalent that officials from 47 states have warned residents to limit consumption of local fish. When organic mercury enters the environment, it takes on a highly toxic form that is almost entirely absorbed into the blood and travels throughout the body and brain. Twenty percent of childbearing-aged women in Maine have been reported to have unhealthy mercury levels.
Mercury from nursing mothers passes directly to the newborn, inhibiting the normal development of the nervous system and/or producing generalized lesions through the brain. Delayed motor/verbal skills, learning difficulties, memory/attention difficulties, neurological, and cardiovascular deficits, in addition to the following, have been linked to mercury exposure:
Brain damage, discoloration of eye, gum problems, hallucinations, kidney damage, extreme mood swings, inability to concentrate, chromosomal aberrations, skin allergies, birth defects, twitching muscles, tingling skin, high blood pressure, fluid in the lungs, skeletal muscle degeneration, gastrointestinal irritation, nervous system damage, low grade intermittent fevers, flushing of palms and soles, and abnormal heart rhythms.
The long-term effects of lead can be dangerous,
especially for children, whose small size and rapidly
are most vulnerable. Lead’s wide range of neurotoxic
effects include learning disabilities, decreased growth,
hyperactivity, impaired hearing, behavioral tendencies
towards violence, attention deficits, reduced school performance,
reduced intelligence, and brain damage. When a mother is
exposed to lead, her fetus is at risk as it passes through
the placenta. Children’s bodies absorb lead much
more easily than adult bodies.
Lead molecules combine to
calcium, becoming part of the bone structure as each child’s
body grows. About 1 in 22 children in America have high
levels of lead in their blood, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 8% of children
in Maine tested high for lead exposure in 1999. This was
not only due to their exposure to lead paints from pre-1950
houses, but also to incineration of lead-containing products.
Lead can still be found in peeling leaded paint chips,
imported painted objects, ink printed on plastic bags,
industrial byproduct fertilizers, imported vinyl mini-blinds,
pre-1980s plumbing systems, makeup and hair dyes, x-ray
protection devices, computer monitors, batteries, and candle
wicks with metallic cores.
Cadmium, a naturally occurring element, doesn’t break down in the environment. It enters the food web and is taken up by fish, plants and animals. Cadmium persists in the body for an extremely long time. Cadmium accumulates in the liver and kidneys. Health studies of humans and animals show that long-term exposure to lower levels of cadmium can cause cancer of the prostate, kidney, lung and testes, kidney disease, lung damage, fragile bones, liver disease, iron-poor blood, high blood pressure, nerve or brain damage, loss of sense of smell, and fatigue. Cadmium is also a reproductive hazard. It damages the testes and affects the female reproductive cycle. In animals, cadmium exposure during pregnancy leads to babies with altered behavior, learning disabilities, low birth weight and loss of bone strength.
A major source of cadmium is the use and disposal of consumer products, such as batteries (nickel-cadmium or Ni-Cad) laptop computers, and other consumer electronics, silver solder used in electronics, pigments to make red and yellow colors, as an additive to stabilize PVC (vinyl) and other plastics and in metal coatings. Waste incineration releases cadmium to the air and to the land as incinerator ash.
Chromium is present in the environment in several different forms. Chromium (VI) and chromium (0) are generally produced by industrial processes. The metal chromium, which is the chromium (0) form, is used for making steel. Chromium (VI) and chromium (III) are used for chrome plating, dyes and pigments, leather tanning, and wood preserving.
A common source of chromium exposure is through municipal waste incineration. High levels of exposure can cause: Metal Fume Fever, lung allergies, skin allergies, ulcers & holes in the nasal septum, kidney and liver damage, convulsions, lung cancer, and death.
Nickel is used in electroplating and in making coins, batteries, catalysts and metal alloys such as stainless steel. Sources of nickel found in the atmosphere include emissions from municipal waste incineration.
Exposure to nickel can cause: Lung and nasal sinus cancer, skin allergies, asthma, cancer of the voice box, miscarriages, low birth weight, respiratory infection, chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, damage to the kidneys, damage to liver function. Eating or drinking large amounts of nickel has been reported to cause stomachaches and adverse effects on blood and kidneys.
Dioxin is a name for a group of 75 chemically related compounds known as chlorinated dioxins. The EPA states that incinerators are the primary source of dioxins, the group of chemicals produced by burning chlorine-bearing (#3) plastics.
When released into the air dioxins may be transported long distances. When released in wastewaters, some dioxins are broken down by sunlight, some evaporate to air, but most attach to soil and settle to the bottom sediment in water. The concentrations may build up in the food web, resulting in measurable levels in animals. Even in minute doses, dioxin causes several types of cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression, reproductive disorders, neural damage, liver damage, alterations in glucose metabolism, and skin disorders. Dioxin is one of the most toxic and dangerous chemicals ever tested.
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