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Heaving under a heavy burden

HEAVY METALS AND ENVIRONMENT·Mohammad Athar and Shashi B Vohora· Wiley Eastern Limited

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- iron may symbolise strength, but how many would be aware of the fact that too much of it causes lung damage? Who could ever suspect that a seemingly harmless name like cadmium could be a reason for decreasing sperm count? And not just this, but overexposure to almost all heavy metals causes diseases with horrifying and alien names.

True, scientific advancement has brought about development but only if one takes the latter term to be a synonym for material prosperity. The overall quality of life has rapidly degenerated, ironically due to the very means being used to improve it. The biochemistry of organisms is closely related to the composition of the external environment and any rapid change in surroundings renders human beings and animals incapable of adjusting to it.

The book is a comprehensive study of the properties of heavy metals and their hazardous effects on human and animal life. Starting with their distribution in the ecosystem, it goes on to explore the percentages of heavy metals in humans and animals. Sprinkled with plenty of statistics, the book gives one a good idea of the rising levels of toxic metals due to anthropogenic sources.

A complete section deals with the effect of metals on particular parts of the body. For example, lead in the liver causes Wilson's disease and Laennec's syndrome. Prolonged exposure of the kidneys to lead could cause the contraction of the organ and renal failure, among other problems. As far as fertility is concerned, exposure to the metal is known to shorten gestation, cause spontaneous abortions and reduce foetal size and growth. High levels of lead exposure in males could exert adverse effects on the testes, resulting in depressed or abnormal spermatogenesis.

Although the subject has been dealt with in a highly academic manner, the book still manages to capture the interest of the layperson. It makes vital reading for students of medicine and people involved in multi-disciplinary studies of the environment. The only serious drawback of the book is that the symptoms of various diseases caused by exposure to metals have not been touched upon, something that could have made it more interesting and meaningful. The protective measures needed to forestall these ailments deserved more attention than was accorded by the author.

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