Metals and Other Trace Elements (2023)

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) Chasing Iron & Other Trace Elements In The Oceans

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

FAQs

What are the 15 trace elements? ›

Essential trace elements: boron, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. Probably essential trace elements: chromium, fluorine, nickel, selenium, and vanadium.

What are the 13 trace minerals? ›

They include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. You only need small amounts of trace minerals. They include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.

What are the different trace elements? ›

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).

What are the metallic trace elements? ›

Trace metals are elements such as chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc that normally occur at very low levels in the environment. Living things need very small amounts of some trace metals, but high levels of these same metals can be toxic.

How many trace elements are there? ›

At least 21 trace elements have been described in the human body and each one has different functions. Deficiencies or excess of any of the trace elements can cause various clinical manifestations and affect one's growth and development.

What are the 14 trace elements in the human body? ›

The concentrations of 14 serum trace elements, namely iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), rubidium (Rb), selenium (Se), strontium (Sr), molybdenum (Mo), manganese (Mn), lead (Pb), arsenic (As), chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co), vanadium (V), and cadmium (Cd), were determined by high-resolution inductively coupled plasma mass ...

What are the 17 minerals? ›

Those essential for health include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, chromium, copper, fluoride, molybdenum, manganese, and selenium.

What are the 7 major minerals? ›

The major minerals, which are used and stored in large quantities in the body, are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. The trace minerals are just as vital to our health as the major minerals, but we don't need large amounts.

What are the 14 minerals? ›

A number of minerals are essential for health: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, sulfur, cobalt, copper, fluoride, manganese, and selenium.

What is another name for trace elements? ›

Trace Elements. 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.

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.

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 the 7 important trace elements in soil? ›

The trace elements that have been studied most extensively in soils are those that are essential for the nutrition of higher plants (MARSCHNER 1995): B, Cl, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo, Ni, and Zn, see table 1.

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).

What is the difference between heavy metals and trace elements? ›

The key difference between heavy metals and trace elements is that the heavy metals are usually toxic at very low concentrations whereas the trace elements are not toxic at low concentrations. Heavy metals are usually high dense materials with high atomic numbers and atomic weights.

What are the 12 trace minerals? ›

Trace minerals are needed in very small amounts. The macrominerals are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. The trace minerals are iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium.

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.

What are the nine trace elements? ›

The nine trace minerals are chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.

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 happens if you have too many trace minerals? ›

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

What are the 28 elements in the human body? ›

Elements
ElementSymbolpercent mass
OxygenO65.0
CarbonC18.5
HydrogenH10
NitrogenN3.2
8 more rows

What are the 18 essential minerals? ›

Summary. Plants require 18 essential nutrients to grow and survive, classified by their importance into macronutrients (C, H, O, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, S) and micronutrients (B, Cu, Fe, Mn, Zn, Mo, Cl, Co, Ni).

Are there 21 essential minerals? ›

There are 13 essential vitamins and 21 essential minerals to maintain health, meaning we must get these from our diets. Other nutrients can be made in-house from these and other substances, but these are the ones we absolutely must consume in certain quantities in order to stay healthy.

Are there 13 minerals? ›

Minerals are nutrients necessary to maintain the body's health. The 13 essential minerals include calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and others.

What are the 15 important minerals? ›

Minerals include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sulfur, chloride, iron, iodine, fluoride, zinc, copper, selenium, chromium and cobalt (which is part of the vitamin B12/cobalamine). Minerals are found in blood, bones, tissues and in the case of some, such as iron, in every living cell.

What are the 10 source of minerals? ›

Minerals include calcium and iron amongst many others and are found in:
  • meat.
  • cereals.
  • fish.
  • milk and dairy foods.
  • fruit and vegetables.
  • nuts.

What are the 9 minerals? ›

These include the top 9 major and trace minerals: calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, potassium, selenium, iron, zinc, and chromium.

What are the big 8 minerals? ›

Eight elements make up 98% of the Earth's crust: oxygen, silicon, aluminium, iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium. The composition of minerals formed by igneous processes is directly controlled by the chemistry of the parent body.

What are the 8 most abundant minerals? ›

You should learn the symbols for the eight most abundant elements in the Earth's crust (Oxygen (O), Silicon (Si), Aluminum (Al), Calcium (Ca), Iron (Fe), Magnesium (Mg), Sodium (Na), and Potassium (K) .

What do trace elements means? ›

Trace elements (or trace metals) are minerals present in living tissues in small amounts. Some of them are known to be nutritionally essential, others may be essential (although the evidence is only suggestive or incomplete), and the remainder are considered to be nonessential.

What is the difference between trace elements and essential elements? ›

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 is another word for trace minerals? ›

In this page you can discover 5 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for trace-element, like: microelement, micronutrient, minor element, minute amount and trace mineral.

How many trace elements do we need a day? ›

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.

Can you have too many minerals in your body? ›

Minerals can be problematic in large doses, too. Premenopausal women are advised in some cases to take iron supplements but continuing them after menopause unless they are needed may lead to an excess. Too much iron can cause symptoms like fatigue, joint pain and depression.

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.

What is the difference between trace elements and minerals? ›

The recommended dietary allowance of minerals (RDA) is usually greater than 200 mg/day whilst that for trace elements is less than 200 mg/day and this can be used to classify the difference between minerals and trace elements.

Which minerals are toxic? ›

Those that are not essential to humans are antimony, aluminum, bismuth, beryllium, cadmium, lead, mercury, and thallium. Both essential and nonessential elements can be toxic when levels exceed a certain threshold.

Which is not a trace element? ›

Mg is not a trace element. An element is absorbed by the plants in a small amount is termed as a trace element which is important for the correct growth, development, and physiology of the plants. Chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, selenium, zinc all are the instances of trace elements.

What are the 7 important trace elements in soil? ›

The trace elements that have been studied most extensively in soils are those that are essential for the nutrition of higher plants (MARSCHNER 1995): B, Cl, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo, Ni, and Zn, see table 1.

What are the nine trace elements? ›

The nine trace minerals are chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.

What are the trace elements and their functions? ›

Trace minerals (microminerals)
MineralFunction
SeleniumAntioxidant
CopperPart of many enzymes; needed for iron metabolism
ManganesePart of many enzymes
FluorideInvolved in formation of bones and teeth; helps prevent tooth decay
5 more rows

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.

What are the 17 elements for plant growth? ›

Plants need 17 essential elements for their growth and development. They are: C, H, O, N, P, S, K, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Cu, Mo, Zn, B, Cl and Ni.

What are the 17 essential elements for plants? ›

The 17 Essential Plant Elements include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, chlorine, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and nickel. The non-mineral essential plant elements include hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon.

What are the 16 elements for plant growth? ›

Sixteen elements are considered essential nutrients for plants. These are carbon (C), oxygen (O), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo) and chlorine (Cl).

Which is not a trace element? ›

Mg is not a trace element. An element is absorbed by the plants in a small amount is termed as a trace element which is important for the correct growth, development, and physiology of the plants. Chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, selenium, zinc all are the instances of trace elements.

What are major elements? ›

Geological major elements are defined as those elements that compose 95% of the earth's crust. They are Si, Al, Ca, Mg, Na, K, Ti, Fe, Mn and P.

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 are the 7 major minerals? ›

The major minerals, which are used and stored in large quantities in the body, are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. The trace minerals are just as vital to our health as the major minerals, but we don't need large amounts.

What is the difference between trace elements and essential elements? ›

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.

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 happens if you get too much trace minerals? ›

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

How many trace elements do we need a day? ›

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.

Can you have too many minerals in your body? ›

Minerals can be problematic in large doses, too. Premenopausal women are advised in some cases to take iron supplements but continuing them after menopause unless they are needed may lead to an excess. Too much iron can cause symptoms like fatigue, joint pain and depression.

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