What heavy metals are in China’s water, and how harmful are they?

Definition and principal sources

Heavy metals are naturally occurring and industrially produced raw elements that are metallic in nature and pose a threat to human health. The heavy metals that are of the greatest concern in Chinese water are cadmium, mercury, lead, and arsenic.

Health Effects

  • Cadmium exposure has been shown to cause kidney and bone damage at very low levels. Cadmium has been found in Chinese water largely due to industrial dumping, intended and accidental, such as the major spill in 2012 that threatened the water of millions of people in southern china.
  • Mercury enters the ground water through natural deposits. It is also discharged from landfills and factories, eventually making its way into the water supply. Mercury has been linked to neurological issues in adults, and can cause severe neurological problems in unborn children. Mercury levels in the water can also easily concentrate to dangerous levels in fish, so pregnant women especially should be careful what type of seafood they eat.
  • Lead is an extremely hazardous heavy metal. Commonly found in certain types of old gasoline, paints, and glazed food containers. Some Chinese made toys have even been found to contain lead. Older water pipes have also been shown to contain lead, leading to a significant risk of lead in tap water.  Lead acts as a strong neuro-toxin, the permanent effects of which are especially strong in children, even at very low exposure levels. In adults serious kidney and blood pressure issues have been linked to lead.
  • Arsenic is also a common heavy metal in China. China actually has significant arsenic deposits in its bedrock, making ground water contamination common. Additionally, arsenic is commonly used in the mining industry, where it often finds its way into the water supply as well.The health risks of arsenic exposure include increased cancer risk, especially skin cancer and lung cancer, as well as some circulatory system problems.

What’s in the Water


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