Editor's Note [Volume 24 No. 4 (2024)]


Food Safety: Heavy Metals Poisoning

As I have always maintained, food is essential to maintain human health. But food can also be a vehicle of a substance that can end a life. Some of these toxic substances are within the foods themselves, while others are external, and get introduced unintentionally, for example, heavy metals in the environment. Lead is one such metal. Lead was a very important metal during the Industrial Revolution and is associated with items around the house: pipes, plumbing materials, batteries, paints, and even cosmetics. It was a part of gasoline for a long time. Consumers who drive become familiar with lead-free petrol. Why lead-free? Do we ever ask? Then we have had paint makers stop using lead. Unfortunately, heavy metals poisoning cannot be reversed, and based on severity leads to diminished mental ability and even death. For this, it is no wonder that every so often stories of lead poisoning come up. Because of its adverse effects on human health and the environment, usage of lead has been reduced. Heavy metals are metalic elements whose density is higher than that of water even as much as five times. Other heavy metals that can be toxic at lower exposure include arsenic and mercury. Mercury, commonly associated with seafish, is emitted into the air from volcanoes, burning of fossil fuel, and weathering of rocks. Fish, especially bigger and older tend to have higher traces of mercury. So, much as we may like fish as a healthy meat option, we should moderate our consumption of it. Remember also that the sea and rivers where the fish is found tend to get heavily polluted by industrial waste. Awareness has increased as more and more people contract cancer and organ damage, all because of exposure to environmental pollutants. Many of these pollutants come from industrial activity such as foundries, mines, and all kinds of processing plants. Aircraft and heavy motor fuel released to the environment also tend to release these heavy metals. There are many more heavy metals; some are useful in the human body in such minute amounts that they are not even mentioned amongst essential nutrients; they find their way into the environment anyway. From a public health point of view, these heavy metals are injurious to health. Where the pollutants are carelessly disposed of in the environment, there should be a regulatory framework that includes heavy penalties. Well-informed consumer groups should also be facilitated to campaign against the polluters on behalf of the public. One gets the impression that the unprecedented surge in cancer cases on the African continent has something to do with exposure to heavy metals and toxic pesticides. It is about time we woke up and did something about this. The worst is when we read of surveys that report that lead and other heavy metals have been detected in the vegetables we purchase in the city. Traceability becomes very important here, so the consumer can know where the vegetables are sourced.

Paul B Tchounwou, Clement G Yedjou, Anita K Patlolla, and Dwayne J Sutton Heavy Metals Toxicity and the Environment https://doi.org/10.1007%2F978-3-7643-8340-4_6
Monisha Jaishankar, Tenzin Tseten, Naresh Anbalagan, Blessy B. Mathew and Krishnamurthy N. Beeregowda Health effects of some heavy metals. Interdisciplinary Toxicol. 2014 Jun; 7(2): 60–72. https://doi.org/10.2478/intox-2014-0009

Prof. Ruth Khasaya Oniang'o
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, AJFAND

ORCID: https://orcid.org/0009-0005-8344-9093