California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

LEA Advisory #56—November 4, 1998

Attachment 2—Health Effects of Seven Metals Commonly Found in Burn Ash

Arsenic (As)

Arsenic is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of 129 priority pollutants. Arsenic is also listed among the 25 hazardous substances thought to pose the most significant potential threat to human health at priority superfund sites.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, and Other Non-Human Biota: Plants can take up arsenic in a variety of ways, including from fly ash, sludge, and by manure dumped on the land. However, it has been found that the edible portions of plants grown on contaminated sources seldom accumulate dangerous levels of arsenic. Animals are generally less sensitive to arsenic than plants. Arsenic is one of the most toxic elements to fish.

Potential Hazards to Humans: Arsenic has long been a concern to man because small amounts can be toxic to humans. Relatively high doses of arsenic have been reported to cause bone marrow suppression in humans. Inorganic arsenic in high amounts has been known for centuries as a fast acting human poison.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: Arsenic is often thought of as a carcinogenic priority pollutant. Recent reviews indicate arsenic has been implicated in numerous types of cancer, including skin, bladder, kidney, liver, prostate, and nasal cavity.

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine, and Genotoxicity Information: Recent reviews indicate arsenic has been associated with genotoxic, fetotoxic, mutagenic, and teratogenic impacts. Arsenic does not seem to directly impact DNA but may inhibit some DNA repair.

Beryllium (Be)

Beryllium is listed by the EPA as one of 129 priority pollutants, and is considered one of the 14 most noxious heavy metals.

General Hazard/Toxicity Summary: All beryllium compounds are potentially harmful or toxic. However, the probability of beryllium occurring at significantly toxic levels in ambient natural waters is minimal.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, and Other Non-Human Biota: In those cases in which it is elevated in water beryllium is extremely toxic to warm water fish in soft water.

Potential Effects of Beryllium Upon Humans: Human impacts of beryllium include severe lung inflammation. Acute exposure to high concentrations of the more soluble compounds of beryllium can cause chemical pneumonitis, the symptoms of which include cough, substernal burning, shortness of breath, anorexia, and increasing fatigue.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: Beryllium is a Class B2 carcinogen, (i.e., a probable human carcinogen). Beryllium has been shown to induce lung cancer via inhalation in rats and monkeys and to induce osteosarcomas in rabbits.

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine and Genotoxicity Information: Beryllium has been shown to be teratogenic in snails, and to cause developmental problems in salamanders. Impacts on humans are unknown.

Cadmium (Cd)

Cadmium is listed by the EPA as one of 129 priority pollutants. Cadmium is also listed among the 25 hazardous substances thought to pose the most significant potential threat to human health at priority superfund sites.

General Hazard/Toxicity Summary: Cadmium ions are extremely poisonous; their action is similar to those of mercury. Cadmium acts as a cumulative poison. All cadmium compounds are potentially harmful or toxic.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, and Other Non-Human Biota: Cadmium is very toxic to a variety of species of fish and wildlife. Cadmium causes behavior, growth, and physiological problems in aquatic life at sublethal concentrations. Cadmium is the only metal that clearly accumulates with increasing age of the animal, and the kidneys are the preferred site of cadmium accumulation.

Potential Effects of Cadmium Upon Humans: All cadmium compounds are potentially harmful or toxic. It has been implicated as a cause of human deaths. Kidney and/or liver damage have followed respiratory exposures in industry. Inhalation of cadmium dusts, salts, and fumes over a number of years can cause kidney and bone marrow diseases and emphysema.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: Cadmium is listed by EPA as a Class B1 carcinogen (i.e., a probable human carcinogen by inhalation).

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine and Genotoxicity Information: Cadmium is listed as having some endocrine disruptive activities. Cadmium has been shown to cause birth defects in mammals.

Chromium, General (Cr)

Chromium (Cr) is listed by the EPA as one of 129 priority pollutants. Chromium is considered one of the 14 most noxious heavy metals. Chromium is also listed among the 25 hazardous substances thought to pose the most significant potential threat to human health at priority superfund sites.

General Hazard/Toxicity Summary: The EPA regards all chromium compounds as toxic. Hexavalent chromium causes cellular damage via its role as a strong oxidizing agent, whereas trivalent chromium can inhibit various enzyme systems or react with organic molecules.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, and Other Non-Human Biota: In plants chromium interferes with uptake translocation and accumulation by plant tops of calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, boron, copper, and aggravates iron deficiency chlorosis by interfering with iron metabolism. In mammalian species chromium is considered one of the least toxic trace elements, as normal stomach pH converts hexavalent chromium to trivalent chromium.

Potential Hazards to Humans: Hexavalent chromium is associated with cancer risk and kidney damage. Certain hexavalent chromium compounds when administered via inhalation at high doses have the potential to induce lung tumors in humans and experimental animals. However, at low levels of exposure hexavalent chromium ions are reduced in humans bodily.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: Chromium in general is listed by EPA as a Class A human carcinogen. Some salts of chromium are carcinogenic and humans exposed to chromium fumes have an increased risk for lung cancer.

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine, and Genotoxicity Information: Hexavalent chromium is associated with cancer risk and kidney damage, and may cause damage to DNA and many other tissue structures.

Copper (Cu)

Copper is listed by the EPA as one of 129 priority pollutants.

General Hazard/Toxicity Summary: Although copper in water is a hazard to many aquatic organisms minute amounts of copper in the diet are needed for human, plant, and animal enzymes.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, and Other Non-Human Biota: Elevated concentrations of copper in water are particularly toxic to many species of algae, bacilli, fungi, crustaceans, annelids, cyprinids, and salmonids. Most adult fish are able to tolerate relatively high concentrations of copper for short periods of time. The critical effect of copper is its greater toxicity to younger fish.

Potential Hazards to Humans: Copper poisoning or deficiency problems are rare in humans.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: Copper is not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity. There is inadequate animal carcinogenicity data on copper.

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine, and Genotoxicity Information: Reproductive effects on animals are noted at low levels of copper. Incubation of human spermatozoa with metallic copper is found to bring about a significant fall in the percentage of motile sperm in humans.

Lead (Pb)

Lead is listed by the EPA as one of 129 priority pollutants. Lead is also listed among the 25 hazardous substances thought to pose the most significant potential threat to human health at priority superfund sites.

General Hazard/Toxicity Summary: All measured effects of lead on living organisms are adverse, including those related to survival, growth, learning, reproduction, development, behavior, and metabolism.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, and Other Non-Human Biota: Lead is a heavy metal that is very toxic to aquatic organisms, especially fish. In fish lead deposits in active calcification areas such as scales, fin rays, vertebrae, and opercula. In vertebrates sublethal lead poisoning is characterized by neurological problems, kidney dysfunction, enzyme inhibition, and anemia.

Potential Hazards to Humans: Lead poisoning is particularly dangerous in young children (who may ingest lead by eating lead-containing chips of paint); it may result in anorexia and--in severe cases--permanent brain damage. Women in the workplace are more likely to experience adverse effects from lead exposure than men because their hematopoietic system is more lead sensitive than men's.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: Lead is listed by EPA as a Class B2 carcinogen. There is sufficient evidence to be classed as an animal carcinogen.

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine, and Genotoxicity Information: Adverse effects of lead on living organisms include those negatively affecting reproduction and development. Effects of sublethal concentrations of lead include delayed embryonic development, suppressed reproduction, inhibition of growth, and fin erosion.

Mercury (Hg)

Mercury is listed by the EPA as one of 129 priority pollutants.

General Hazard/Toxicity Summary: Major sources to atmosphere include incineration of municipal waste, landfills, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) sites, sewage sludge burning, and medical waste incinerators.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, Invertebrates, Plants, and Other Non-Human Biota: Mercury is one of the few metals which strongly bioconcentrates and biomagnifies and has only harmful effects with no useful physiological functions when present in fish and wildlife. The most sensitive target of low-level exposure to metallic or organic mercury following short- or long-term exposures appear to be the nervous system. The most sensitive target of low-level exposure to inorganic mercury appears to be the kidneys.

Potential Hazards to Humans: Human exposure to methyl mercury is almost entirely due to consumption of fish. Potential impacts to human health are real and potentially great. Mercury deposits in human kidneys may lead to renal failure. Children and persons with a history of allergies or known sensitization to mercury, chronic respiratory disease, nervous system disorders, or kidney disorders are at increased risk to mercury poisoning. Many mercury compounds are irritating to skin and may produce dermatitis with or without vesication. Contact with eyes cause ulceration of conjunctiva and cornea. Mercury deposits in the brain cause many disorders and sometimes dementia in humans.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: Mercury is not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity, based on inadequate human and animal data.

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine, and Genotoxicity Information: Methyl mercury can denature DNA and can otherwise interact with both DNA and RNA to alter their structures.

Nickel (Ni)

Nickel is listed by the EPA as one of 129 priority pollutants, and is considered to be one of the 14 most noxious heavy metals. Nickel is also listed among the 25 hazardous substances thought to pose the most significant potential threat to human health at priority superfund sites.

General Hazard/Toxicity Summary: Low absorption from the GI tract causes nickel compounds to be essentially nontoxic after ingestion.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, Invertebrates, Plants, or Other Non-Human Biota: Mixtures of nickel, copper, and zinc produced additive toxicity effects on rainbow trout.

Potential Hazards to Humans: Nickel is toxic to humans as a dust or powder. The organs that are affected by exposure to nickel, metal, and soluble compounds (as Ni) are nasal cavities, lungs, and skin.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: Nickel, in general, is not considered a carcinogen.

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine, and Genotoxicity Information: Study results indicate that nickel is a developmental toxicant in animals, but it is not known whether occupational or environmental exposure to nickel could result in developmental effects in humans.

Zinc (Zn)

Zinc is listed by the EPA as one of 129 priority pollutants.

General Hazard/Toxicity Summary: Zinc in low to moderate amounts is of very low toxicity in its ordinary compounds and in low concentrations is an essential element in plant and animal life.

Potential Hazards to Fish, Wildlife, Invertebrates, Plants, or Other Non-Human Biota: Elevated concentrations of zinc in water are particularly toxic to many species of algae, crustaceans, and salmonids. In mammals excess zinc can cause copper deficiencies, affect iron metabolism, and interact with the chemical dynamics of lead and drugs.

Potential Hazards to Humans: In humans, prolonged excessive dietary intake of zinc can lead to deficiencies in iron and copper, nausea, vomiting, fever, headache, tiredness, and abdominal pain. Zinc is a human skin irritant.

Brief Summary of Carcinogenicity/Cancer Information: There are no reports on the possible carcinogenicity of zinc and compounds per se in humans.

Brief Summary of Developmental, Reproductive, Endocrine, and Genotoxicity Information: The risk associated with maternal ingestion of large amounts of zinc in human pregnancy is unknown.

Advisory 56

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Martin Perez: Martin Perez (916) 323-0834