Metals and Other Trace Elements (2022)

Trace elements are simply elements present in minute amounts in the environment. Trace elements include metals, such as lead and iron; metalloids, such as arsenic; and radionclides (radioactive elements), such as radium and radon.Trace elements in our Nation's streams, rivers, and groundwaterhave natural andmanmade sources. Rock weathering, soil erosion, anddissolution of water-soluble salts are examples of natural sources of trace elements. Many human activities also contribute trace elements to the environment—mining, urban runoff, industrial emissions, and nuclear reactions are just some of the many manmade sources. Trace elements tend to concentrate in sediment, but also can dissolve to some degree in water, and can present a risk to human and aquatic health.

(Video) Chemistry 2 Module 1: Trace Elements

► Learn about trace elements in groundwater in Principal Aquifers of the United States, our invisible, vital resource.

METALS

Many people might not realize that most elements are metals. Metals tend to be shiny, they make good conductors, and they'remalleable and ductile. Most corrode when exposed to sea water or air, and lose electrons during reactions. We're familiar with many metals, for example gold, silver, lead, zinc, chromium, cadmium, and mercury. It's less obvious that other elements—beryllium, sodium, and lithium, for example—are metals too. Although manmade metal objects surround us each day, metalsrepresent only a minute proportion of the elements in the Earth's crust.

There is no agreed-upon definition of "heavy metals," but heavy metalsgenerally are considered to be those metals with a high density. Gold, silver, tin, copper, zinc, and iron are well-known examples of heavy metals.Some heavy metals, like iron and zinc, are essential nutrients at low concentrationsbut toxic at high concentrations. Other non-essential heavy metals, like cadmium, mercury, and lead, are toxic even at relatively low concentrations.

A "metalloid" has properties intermediate between metals and non-metals. From a water-quality point of view, arsenic is perhaps the metalloid of most concern. Other metalloids include boron and silicon, and carbonand some othertrace elements are sometimes classified asmetalloids.

Metals in water used for drinking and in sediment can present a risk to human and aquatic health. Various concentrationbenchmarkshave been developed that indicate the concentration above which a metal is a health concern.

(Video) Trace Elements

RADIONUCLIDES

Radionuclides (radiocative elements) also are trace elementa. Radionuclidesin our environment are produced by minerals in the Earth’s crust, by cosmic rays hitting atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, and by human activities.Radionuclides occur naturally in many rocks and minerals and therefore occur frequently groundwater. The most common examples of radionuclides in groundwater are uranium,radium, and radon.

► Learn more aboutradionuclides and water quality.

OTHER TRACE ELEMENTS

A small number of trace elements, such as selenium,are neither metals nor radionuclides. Selenium occurs naturally in sedimentary rocks, shales, coal and phosphate deposits, and soils.Application of irrigation water, which contains dissolved oxygen, can caused selenium to be released from sediment into groundwater, particularly in arid areas. This processes has been documentedin the shallow Denver Basin aquiferin Coloradoand in parts of the West where selenium occurs in rocks and sediments.Selenium in groundwater can discharge into streams, where it canbioaccumulatein the aquatic food chain. Chronic exposure in fish and aquatic invertebrates can cause reproductive impairments.

TRACE ELEMENTS AND DRINKING WATER

(Video) The Battle In Our Brains: Trace Minerals VS Toxic Heavy Metals - Brain Saver

Concentrations of trace elements are more likely to be a problem in groundwater than in surface water, unless the area is impactedby mining. That’s because when groundwater moves through the rocks and sediments that make up an aquifer, some of the minerals in or adhered to those rocks and sediment are released into the water. Groundwater that has been in an aquifer a long time has had more time to interact with aquifer materials than groundwater that has recharged recently. Additionally, geochemical conditions, such as pH and redox, change as groundwater slowly moves along a flowpath from recharge to discharge—those geochemical conditions can affect whether metals are released into the groundwater.

Groundwater age is just one of the factors that can affect the concentration of trace elements. Other factors include climate and, geology, and human actions. Climate4 plays a role because inregionswhere precipitation is low and evaporation rates are high, there is less water to dilute the products of rock weathering. Geology plays a role because the metals available for leaching into groundwater depend on types of minerals present in the rocks and sediment. Finally, human actions such as irrigation and pumping canaffect concentrations of trace elements in groundwater, often by changing the geochemical conditions, such as pH and redox conditions,within the aquifer.

Metals reported to widely occur at concentrationsabove drinking-water benchmarks in untreated groundwater from some aquifersinclude manganese and the metalloidarsenic. Other metals, like iron, might not be present at levels that are a health risk, but can be a nuisance by making water unpleasant to drink or by staining fixtures. Levels of metals can be lowered through treatment. Water from public-supply wells is required to be tested by the well operator on a routine basis to help assure that the water provided to consumers meets Federal and State water-quality standards, which exist for many but not all metals. Routine testing of water from domestic (private) wells is not required, and it is up to the homeowner or private-well owner to test, maintain, and treat the water from their well.The best way to know the water quality of a domestic well is to have it tested.

In areas impacted by mining, acid runoffdissolves heavy metals, such as copper, lead, and mercury, into groundwater or surface water.Acidic, metal-laden drainage from abandoned coal mines can have substantial effects on aquatic resources. Problems that can be associated with mine drainage include contaminated drinking water, disrupted growth and reproduction of aquatic plants and animals, and the corroding effects of the acid on parts of infrastructures such as bridges.

Corrosive water can contribute to elevated concentrations of metals in drinking water, but in this case the metals come from within the water distribution system, such as pipes used for plumbing.Naturally corrosive water is not dangerous to consume in itself, but ifplumbing materials contain lead or copper, corrosive water can cause these metals to leach into the water supply. Both surface water and groundwater can be corrosive.Many factors contribute to corrosivity, including elevated concentrations of chloride and other dissolved solids, pH out of neutral range, elevated concentrations of suspended solids, and lowalkalinity.

METALS IN LAKE SEDIMENTS—RECONSTRUCTING CONTAMINANT TRENDS

(Video) 11. Trace elements Revision [Iron, Copper, Zinc, Iodine, Fluoride, Selenium, Manganese]

Sources/Usage: Public Domain.

Metals tend to adhere to sediment; they can be carried by suspended sediment in streams and rivers to lakes and reservoirs, where the sediment and metals settle to the bottom. The history of metal contamination in a watershed is recorded in the lake sediment, and by collecting and analyzing cores of that sediment the watershed's contamination history can be reconstructed.

Trends in metals, as recorded in sediment cores, reflect legislation, regulation, and changing demographics and industrial practices in the United States. For example, sediment cores clearly indicate the peak in the use of leaded gasoline in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A study of metals trends in 35 reservoirs and lakes across the U.S. found decreasing trends in both lead and chromium in most lakes, and increasing trends in few or no lakes. Sediment cores can also record trends in metals associated with local sources such as mining and smelters. In urban areas, fluvial sources (urban runoff and streams)contribute far greater fluxes of metals than do atmospheric sources.

► Learn more about metals and lake sediment cores.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

(Video) Chasing Iron & Other Trace Elements In The Oceans

FAQs

What is a trace element blood test? ›

Trace mineral tests measure the concentration of specific minerals in a sample of blood, urine, or other body fluid or tissue. These minerals are substances that the body needs in minute amounts on a regular basis for normal functioning.

Which element is a trace element? ›

Trace elements, also known as microminerals, are substances that make up less than 0.01% of the body mass. In human milk these include iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, iodine, fluorine, molybdenum, cobalt, chromium, and nickel.

Are all trace elements metals? ›

Trace elements are simply elements present in minute amounts in the environment. Trace elements include metals, such as lead and iron; metalloids, such as arsenic; and radionclides (radioactive elements), such as radium and radon.

What are trace metals examples? ›

Essential trace elements of the human body include zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), selenium (Se), chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co), iodine (I), manga- nese (Mn), and molybdenum (Mo).

How do trace elements affect the body? ›

Trace elements function primarily as catalysts in enzyme systems; some metallic ions, such as iron and copper, participate in oxidation-reduction reactions in energy metabolism. Iron, as a constituent of hemoglobin and myoglobin, also plays a vital role in the transport of oxygen.

What happens if you have too many trace minerals? ›

These symptoms include cardiac arrhythmias, headache , nausea and vomiting , and in severe cases, seizures.

Why are trace elements important? ›

Trace elements are very important for cell functions at biological, chemical and molecular levels. These elements mediate vital biochemical reactions by acting as cofactors for many enzymes, as well as act as centers for stabilizing structures of enzymes and proteins.

How do you identify trace elements? ›

Commonly used techniques for trace-element analysis in human biological material are flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS), graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAAS), inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

How do you use trace elements? ›

All soluble Trace Element applications are best applied by either applying dissolved solution to the soil/potting mix around the plants or by foliar spray. For most foliar sprays, as a thumb rule use the dilution rate of 1 gram per litre which is a safe dilution.

Do we need trace elements? ›

Nutritionally essential trace elements are required parts of an individual's nutrition. These elements contribute to vital bodily functions, including metabolic function, tissue repair, growth, and development.

What is meant by trace metals? ›

Trace metals are the metals subset of trace elements; that is, metals normally present in small but measurable amounts in animal and plant cells and tissues and that are a necessary part of nutrition and physiology. Many biometals are trace metals. Ingestion of, or exposure to, excessive quantities can be toxic.

How do you trace metal? ›

Common analytical methods used for trace metal analysis include atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS), inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

What are the main source of trace element? ›

The main sources of trace elements are soil parent materials (rocks), fertilizers, biosolids, irrigation water, coal combustion residues, auto emissions, and metal-smelting industries.

What are the names of trace minerals? ›

You only need small amounts of trace minerals. They include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.

What are the 15 trace elements? ›

Of the mineral elements discussed here, those that have nutritional significance are chromium, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, nickel, selenium, and zinc. Those that are not essential to humans are antimony, aluminum, bismuth, beryllium, cadmium, lead, mercury, and thallium.

What trace element is most important for your personal health? ›

Iron. Iron is the most abundant essential trace element in the human body. The total content of iron in the body is about 3–5 g with most of it in the blood and the rest in the liver, bone marrow, and muscles in the form of heme [50].

What are the most common trace elements in the human body? ›

The three most abundant essential trace elements are iron, fluorine, and zinc. Iron plays an essential role in human health as part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen around the body in the blood. Fluorine is important for teeth.

Where are trace elements found in the body? ›

Also referred to as microminerals, these trace elements are part of enzymes, hormones and cells in the body.

Can trace minerals make you tired? ›

Common Symptoms of Trace Mineral Deficiency. Some of the most obvious signs of a trace mineral deficiency are anemia, fatigue, or irregular heartbeat. Poor digestion and appetite, as well as chronic fatigue and brain fog, could also be signs that your body lacks trace minerals, such as iodine.

How can I get trace minerals naturally? ›

Trace elements are also essential nutrients that your body needs to work properly, but in much smaller amounts than vitamins and minerals. They include iodine and fluorine. Trace elements are found in small amounts in a variety of foods such as meat, fish, cereals, milk and dairy foods, vegetables and nuts.

How much trace minerals does your body need? ›

Even though trace minerals are needed in tiny doses, they are still crucial to our health and development. The recommended daily allowance for most trace minerals is between . 2 and 15 milligrams. Find below a list of trace minerals, their functions, and common foods that contain them.

What is the most important trace element and why? ›

Zinc is one of the most important trace elements. Zinc deficiency is a major health problem worldwide. Causes of zinc deficiency can be nutritional, iatrogenic, genetic or a result of diseases.

How important is trace analysis? ›

Trace analysis is required to characterize very pure materials that are essential to prepare good quality electronic goods. Also trace analysis is essential to assess the quality of food products and to monitor the environmental contaminants.

What is the difference between an essential element and a trace element? ›

essential element: Essential elements are elements that an organism needs to live a healthy life and reproduce. Essential elements comprise about 20–25% of the 92 natural elements. trace element: Trace elements are required by an organism in only minute quantities.

What elements is your brain made of? ›

Eight elements (i.e. K, Ca, Mn, Fe, Cu, Zn, Se, and Rb) were measured in 50 different regions of 12 normal human brains by particle-induced X-ray emission (PIXE) analysis. The dry weight concentrations of K, Fe, Cu, Zn, Se, and Rb were consistently higher for gray than for white matter areas.

How are trace metals detected? ›

Atomic emission spectrometry is now widely used for trace metal analysis as multielement determinations can be made on a single sample; however, other methodologies are applicable.

What is the difference between a mineral and a trace element? ›

Alternatively, Major minerals are present in the body in amounts greater than 5 grams and Trace minerals are present in the body in amounts less than 5 grams. The major minerals are: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium.

Are trace elements toxic? ›

The role of trace elements deficiency is suspected in various clinical situations and is now confirmed by well designed supplementation studies. Although toxicity of trace elements with clinical manifestations is rare, it has been observed that manganese toxicity may occur in patients receiving parenteral nutrition.

Is a trace element for plant? ›

Exact needs vary among species, but commonly required plant trace elements include copper, boron, zinc, manganese, and molybdenum. Animals also require manganese, iodine, and cobalt.

What tube is used for trace elements? ›

Collect samples in a royal blue EDTA tube (ARUP supply #16313). EDTA is the preferred anticoagulant over heparin because heparin is only effective for 24– 36 hours. Invert the tube 8–10 times to prevent clotting.

What is a trace element deficiency? ›

Recent findings: Trace elements deficiencies are frequently found in various conditions, most commonly in burns, bariatric surgery, intestinal failure, renal replacement therapy, oncology, critical illness and cardiac surgery. The main trace elements involved are selenium, zinc, copper and iron.

What does a trace amount of elements mean? ›

Trace elements refer to any chemical element that is present in the body in very small amounts. Trace elements can be classified as nutritionally essential, probably essential, or potentially toxic.

What is a trace elements in medical terms? ›

(trays EH-leh-ment) An element found in very small amounts in a given substance. Organisms need certain trace elements to survive.

What is a trace metal test used for? ›

Trace metals analysis allows detection and identification of low levels of metals in a sample which can be critical to product development, quality control and regulatory compliance.

What are the symptoms of trace mineral deficiency? ›

Some of the most obvious signs of a trace mineral deficiency are anemia, fatigue, or irregular heartbeat. Poor digestion and appetite, as well as chronic fatigue and brain fog, could also be signs that your body lacks trace minerals, such as iodine.

How can I get trace minerals naturally? ›

Trace elements are also essential nutrients that your body needs to work properly, but in much smaller amounts than vitamins and minerals. They include iodine and fluorine. Trace elements are found in small amounts in a variety of foods such as meat, fish, cereals, milk and dairy foods, vegetables and nuts.

Should I take trace mineral supplements? ›

Our bodies not only benefit from trace minerals, they are even required for optimal activity and function. Overall, trace minerals benefits actually maintain a balance between nutrition and toxins. A deficiency can actually cause metabolic dysfunction and even metabolic failure.

What is the most important trace element? ›

Zinc is one of the most important trace elements. Zinc deficiency is a major health problem worldwide. Causes of zinc deficiency can be nutritional, iatrogenic, genetic or a result of diseases.

How much trace elements do we need? ›

Even though trace minerals are needed in tiny doses, they are still crucial to our health and development. The recommended daily allowance for most trace minerals is between . 2 and 15 milligrams. Find below a list of trace minerals, their functions, and common foods that contain them.

Are trace elements important? ›

Trace elements are very important for cell functions at biological, chemical and molecular levels. These elements mediate vital biochemical reactions by acting as cofactors for many enzymes, as well as act as centers for stabilizing structures of enzymes and proteins.

What trace element is most important for your personal health? ›

Iron. Iron is the most abundant essential trace element in the human body. The total content of iron in the body is about 3–5 g with most of it in the blood and the rest in the liver, bone marrow, and muscles in the form of heme [50].

What are the toxic trace elements? ›

The toxic trace elements arsenic, antimony, cadmium, lead, selenium, and thallium were found to be most concentrated in the smallest respirable particles emitted from coal-fired power plants.

What is the full meaning of trace? ›

Definition of trace

(Entry 1 of 3) 1a : a minute and often barely detectable amount or indication a trace of a smile. b : an amount of a chemical constituent not always quantitatively determinable because of minuteness. 2a : a mark or line left by something that has passed also : footprint.

How do you identify trace elements? ›

Commonly used techniques for trace-element analysis in human biological material are flame atomic absorption spectrometry (FAAS), graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry (GFAAS), inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

How do you analyze metals? ›

Common analytical methods used for trace metal analysis include atomic absorption spectroscopy (AAS), inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). The analysis of trace metals by ICP is a highly sensitive procedure.

How can you tell if metal is lead? ›

One surefire way to find out whether a given metal is lead is to evaluate a small sample using a lead testing kit, which you can pick up at your local hardware store. Follow the provided instructions carefully—most kits display a red or pink color when lead is detected.

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