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Toxic Heavy Metal Exposures in Children – Your Kids Might Need a Detox!

Healthy Baby with Mom - Non-Toxic Home - Lead Free Mama - Detox Toxic Heavy Metals

Toxic heavy metals, such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and mercury, are naturally occurring elements that are or have been used in many products for decades, leading to their widespread distribution in our food, water, and environment. Since children are smaller and less developed than adults, exposure to toxic metals at home, in school, outside, or in other common environments can cause more severe and harmful consequences when compared to adults.1

The latest research shows children exposed to toxic metals are at higher risk of developing cognitive issues, neurological disorders, behavioral disorders, cancer, respiratory problems, metabolic disorders, and cardiovascular diseases.1

Parents must learn about and be aware of toxic metals because of their prevalence in everyday environments and the potential for significant harm to children.2 Children can absorb toxic metals via several pathways, including the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), the lungs, and the skin.1,2

This blog post will discuss the sources of several toxic metals and the potential health consequences of exposure in children.


Toxic Heavy Metal Exposures in Children – Your Kids Might Need a Detox!

Arsenic – A Toxic Metal & Element Known as the “Perfect Poison”

Most are aware arsenic is a poison, but few realize their family could be consuming arsenic every day during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Odorless and tasteless, arsenic is the perfect poison and a significant public health concern. Arsenic is the #1 toxic substance on the Priority List of Hazardous Substances, which includes substances that pose the most significant threat to human health due to toxicity and the potential for frequent exposure.3

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the threshold level of inorganic arsenic in drinking water as 10 μg per liter, testing shows much higher concentrations in several places, including India, the US, Canada, China, and many other countries.3

Also, according to an article published by Consumer Reports in 2019, almost half of all fruit juices tested in the United States had concerning amounts of arsenic and other toxic metals. Other sources of arsenic exposure include rice, rice-based products, tap water, well water, bottled water, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, cigarette smoke, air pollution, cosmetics, wood preservatives, automobile batteries, lead alloys, asphalt, certain pigments used in glassmaking, as well as products used in the electronics, copper smelting, and optical industries.3

Rice can be one of the first solid foods introduced to infants. Rice is also used to thicken many infant formulas. Unfortunately, rice absorbs ten times more inorganic arsenic than any other grain, making arsenic exposure a concern for infants and children who consume rice and rice-based products. The arsenic absorbed by the rice naturally occurs in the soil and the copious amounts of water that flood the rice paddies.4

Research shows consumption of arsenic during infancy and childhood could be associated with poor cognitive development, autism, ADHD, wasting, cancer, underweight status, conjunctivitis, ocular opacity, impaired immune response, pneumonia, pediatric functional gastrointestinal diseases (nausea, vomiting, colic), and other detrimental effects on health.4-7


Toxic Heavy Metal Exposures in Children – Your Kids Might Need a Detox!

The Element Barium – A Toxic Heavy Metal

Barium, a heavy rock that glows in the dark, was initially discovered in the mountains of Italy in the early 1600s. The glowing stone fascinated many and was called the “philosopher’s stone.” Over time, it became known as barium, from the Greek word “barys,” which means heavy. In just the United States, it is estimated that more than 150,000 people are exposed to barium at levels higher than the US EPA’s exposure limit.8

Naturally occurring barium binds and forms compounds with other elements, and the toxicity of barium depends on the solubility, or bioavailability, of the barium compound.9

Barium sulfate is the compound used in medical applications as a contrast media for examination of the gastrointestinal tract during a “barium swallow” because it is an insoluble barium compound. Therefore, even though barium sulfate is ingested, the barium is tightly bound to sulfur and will remain bound until the intact compound is excreted from the body. Other barium compounds, such as barium chloride and barium carbonate, can easily enter the bloodstream since they are more soluble and, therefore, much more toxic.9

There are many reports of serious adverse health effects in those exposed to barium carbonate or barium chloride. These compounds can cause hypokalemia (a low blood potassium level), which then induces an irregular heart rhythm called ventricular tachycardia, high or low blood pressure, muscle weakness, paralysis, and possibly death.9

The ingestion of barium can cause acute symptoms in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Research also shows long-term exposure to low amounts of barium can harm the health of the kidneys.9

Sources of barium include certain foods, such as Brazil nuts, seaweed, and fish.9 There are many industrial uses for barium, so it is often used as an ingredient in drilling lubricants and during the manufacture of bricks, paints, rubber, glass, and tiles.10

Additional sources of barium exposure include fireworks and the weather modification technology called solar geoengineering by stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).11,12 Fireworks can contain the compounds barium chlorate and barium nitrate, which provide a yellow-green color when ignited. So, be cautious when allowing your children to handle or be around fireworks.12

The small amounts of barium that enter the body by breathing, eating, and drinking normally are primarily removed in urine and feces within 1–2 weeks after the exposure.9

Toxic Heavy Metal Exposures in Children – Your Kids Might Need a Detox!

Cadmium – a Heavy Metal That Can Cause Disease and Toxicity

Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that poses a significant threat to children's health, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified cadmium as a Group I human carcinogen. Childhood cadmium poisoning has become a global public health concern and is associated with dysfunction in the musculoskeletal, nervous, immune, respiratory, circulatory, urinary, and reproductive systems.2

Cadmium has no physiological role in the human body and can increase the risk of cancer, behavioral problems, death, low IQ, low bone mineral density, and lead to kidney damage. There is no safe level of cadmium exposure in children.2,13

Cadmium is readily absorbed by many plants, including grains, tobacco, and vegetables. Tobacco smoke is a significant source of cadmium exposure.2 Roughly 90% of cadmium exposure occurs because of dietary intake in those not exposed to tobacco smoke.13

While cadmium intake varies widely in different areas, foods frequently consumed in large quantities, including potatoes, rice, wheat, and leafy greens, are common sources of cadmium.13 Recent reports also suggest a concerning amount of cadmium could be present in chocolate.

There is no direct, dedicated physiologic mechanism to excrete cadmium; therefore, virtually all absorbed cadmium is retained in the body long-term. Cadmium absorption can increase by four to fivefold in those with low iron status, which is common in children and young women and during pregnancy.14

Studies performed in the 1970s-80s confirmed cadmium is a neurotoxin in children. A study that used CDC data showed urinary cadmium levels greater than or equal to 0.18 ug/g creatinine in children aged 6-15 years old are associated with a threefold increased likelihood of special education requirement and a 3.21-fold increased risk of developing a learning disability.14

Research also shows cadmium exposure is an underlying cause of diabetes regardless of weight. Available data suggest cadmium exposure is also associated with mitochondrial dysfunction, reduced insulin secretion, and insulin resistance.14

Toxic Heavy Metal Exposures in Children – Your Kids Might Need a Detox!

Toxic Lead Exposure – Sources, Symptoms, and Testing for Heavy Metal Toxicity in Children

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can be present in many household products, including batteries, gasoline, paint, food cans, traditional folk remedies, lead-glazed ceramics, lead crystal, cosmetics, jewelry, cigarette smoke, lead-based solder used in vinyl lunch boxes, children’s toys, and even contaminated candy.15

Drinking water is one of the most common sources of daily lead exposure. Many water systems still have lead pipes, even though the US EPA banned them in 1986. A study published on March 18th of this year (2024) estimated that 68% of kids under the age of 6 living in Chicago are exposed to drinking water contaminated with lead.16

Even bottled water can contain lead. The FDA set five parts per billion (ppb) as the limit for lead in bottled water. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes no amount of lead in drinking water is safe, so the lead limit for all water should be zero. Exclusively drinking and using filtered water for cooking could be helpful, but to be confident that a filter removes all lead from water, it must meet the NSF 53 certification standards.16

Hurried healthcare providers might not order lead testing as often as they could for children, so parents must begin discussing the subject and requesting the test. Exposure to lead and other toxic metals can occur at any time, after every trip to the grocery store, so regular testing, including non-invasive urine testing, could help keep your children safe.17

According to a recent article by Dr. Ann Thomas, MD, MPH, healthcare providers need to do more to prevent the toxic effects of lead in children following a 2023 outbreak of lead poisoning in children that was associated with the consumption of contaminated applesauce pouches.16 Unfortunately, exposure to lead is not often suspected since most children have no immediate or obvious symptoms.18 This is why regular screening and testing for lead exposure is preferred and required in some states in the US.

Lead exposure causes much more harm during early life because the central nervous system, including the brain, is especially vulnerable to lead toxicity. Also, calcium needs are high in children due to ongoing bone development, and chemically, lead mimics calcium; therefore, children absorb 40-50% of dietary lead, while adults only absorb 5-10% of ingested lead.15

Lead exposure during childhood is associated with impaired mitochondrial function, decreased cognitive ability, brain volume, and social mobility, and increased ADHD, anxiety, depression, sleep fragmentation, and impulsivity.15,16 Lead poisoning symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, headaches, weakness, joint pain, fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, and poor growth.19


Toxic Heavy Metal Exposures in Children – Your Kids Might Need a Detox!

The Element Mercury – A Toxic Heavy Metal

Mercury has fascinated mankind for centuries because it is the only heavy metal that remains a shiny liquid at room temperature. Mercury is highly toxic and can cause significant harm throughout the body, including death. Mercury exposure can quickly and adversely affect the cardiovascular, genitourinary, central and peripheral nervous, respiratory, and musculoskeletal systems. Suspecting exposure to mercury as an underlying cause of health concerns can be a challenge because, while it can cause significant symptoms, the symptoms can be non-specific and mimic other conditions.20

Symptoms of mercury exposure in children include high blood pressure (hypertension), elevated heart rate (tachycardia), skin changes, including rash, trouble sleeping (insomnia), joint/muscle pain (arthralgia/myalgia), headache, partly dilated/dilated pupils, muscle cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, anorexia, and excitability or other personality changes.20-23 Children with acute mercury poisoning can also have no symptoms.23

Sources of mercury exposure include seafood, some thermometers, skin-lightening treatments, barometers, sphygmomanometers, vaccines, antiseptics, and dental fillings (amalgams).23 Mercury is used to produce and, at times, present in some traditional remedies, neon lights, paper, paint, jewelry, pesticides, fungicides, and chlorine.24 Accidental mercury spills can also occur in chemistry laboratories at school when secured mercury is examined by students for learning purposes.23

Toxic Heavy Metal Exposures in Children – Your Kids Might Need a Detox!

Should You Consider A Heavy Metal Detox for Your Kids?

Fortunately, an FDA initiative called Closer to Zero is taking action to reduce toxic element levels in the foods consumed by babies and children in the United States.13 But, parents can help reduce exposure to toxic metals today by being proactive. Toxic metals can be absorbed via the skin, gut, and lungs, so think about what your children are eating, touching, and breathing.1,25 If you suspect the presence of toxic metals in a certain product or environment, detox it from your child’s life!

Testing toxic metal levels in urine and saliva could also help screen for recent exposure(s). Saliva and urine can be collected in the comfort of your home and are non-invasive tests that do not require a blood draw. If the test results suggest exposure to a toxic metal, removing all potential sources of the metal as a detox could be very beneficial to the health of your child. Consult your pediatrician about additional treatment options and further testing.

Toxic Heavy Metal Exposures in Children – Your Kids Might Need a Detox!


  1. Al Osman M, Yang F, Massey IY. Exposure routes and health effects of heavy metals on childrenBiometals. 2019;32(4):563-573. doi:10.1007/s10534-019-00193-5
  2. Yan H, Zhai B, Feng R, et al. Distribution of blood lead and cadmium levels in healthy children aged 0 to 18 years and analysis of related influencing factors in Henan, China: data findings from 2017 to 2022Ital J Pediatr. 2024;50(1):43. doi:10.1186/s13052-024-01614-z
  3. Are you protecting yourself from arsenic in your food and water? InterPlexus. April 15, 2022. Accessed April 1, 2024.
  4. Palmer MJG, Parbuoni KA, Morgan JA. Pediatric Practitioner Knowledge of Arsenic in Baby FoodJ Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2022;27(7):632-635. doi:10.5863/1551-6776-27.7.632
  5. Alao ME, Perin J, Brooks WA, et al. Urinary arsenic is associated with wasting and underweight status in young children in rural BangladeshEnviron Res. 2021;195:110025. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2020.110025
  6. George CM, Brooks WA, Graziano JH, et al. Arsenic exposure is associated with pediatric pneumonia in rural Bangladesh: a case control studyEnviron Health. 2015;14:83. doi:10.1186/s12940-015-0069-9
  7. Bilici N, Doğan E, Sevinç E, et al. Blood and Stool Arsenic Levels Are Decisive for Diagnosing Children's Functional Gastrointestinal Disease (FGD)Biol Trace Elem Res. 2022;200(7):3050-3059. doi:10.1007/s12011-021-02919-4
  8. Kravchenko J, Darrah TH, Miller RK, et al. A review of the health impacts of barium from natural and anthropogenic exposure. Environ Geochem Health. 2014;36(4):797-814. doi:10.1007/s10653-014-9622-7
  9. Toxicological Profile for Barium and Barium Compounds. Atlanta (GA): Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (US); August 2007.
  10. Copeland CS, Rock KL, Pinhal A, et al. A Fatal Case Report of Barium Chloride Toxicity. J Anal Toxicol. 2023;47(2):e33-e41. doi:10.1093/jat/bkac102
  11. Deruelle F. Are persistent aircraft trails a threat to the environment and health?. Rev Environ Health. 2021;37(3):407-421. doi:10.1515/reveh-2021-0060
  12. Deepthiraju B, Varma PR. Barium toxicity a rare presentation of fireworks ingestion. Indian Pediatr. 2012;49(9):762. doi:10.1007/s13312-012-0144-z
  13. Flannery BM, Schaefer HR, Middleton KB. A scoping review of infant and children health effects associated with cadmium exposureRegul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2022;131:105155. doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2022.105155
  14. Satarug S, Vesey DA, Gobe GC, Phelps KR. Estimation of health risks associated with dietary cadmium exposureArch Toxicol. 2023;97(2):329-358. doi:10.1007/s00204-022-03432-w
  15. Ramírez Ortega D, González Esquivel DF, Blanco Ayala T, et al. Cognitive Impairment Induced by Lead Exposure during Lifespan: Mechanisms of Lead NeurotoxicityToxics. 2021;9(2):23. doi:10.3390/toxics9020023
  16. Thomas A. Lead Has Not Gone Away- What Should Pediatric Clinicians Do? Medscape. April 5, 2024. Accessed April 10, 2024.
  17. Kassy CW. Relationship and Accuracy of Urine Lead as an Alternative to Blood Lead Biomarker among Panel Beaters in Enugu Metropolis: NigeriaIndian J Occup Environ Med. 2023;27(4):351-354. doi:10.4103/ijoem.ijoem_140_22
  18. Health effects of lead exposure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 2, 2022. Accessed April 10, 2024.
  19. Miller JM, ed. Lead poisoning (for parents) | nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth. February 2023. Accessed April 15, 2024.
  20. Yildiz M, Adrovic A, Gurup A, et al. Mercury intoxication resembling pediatric rheumatic diseases: case series and literature reviewRheumatol Int. 2020;40(8):1333-1342. doi:10.1007/s00296-020-04589-2
  21. Johnson-Arbor K, Tefera E, Farrell J Jr. Characteristics and treatment of elemental mercury intoxication: A case seriesHealth Sci Rep. 2021;4(2):e293. Published 2021 Jun 4. doi:10.1002/hsr2.293
  22. Güven D, Özbek İ. Characteristics, Treatment, and Prognosis of Elemental Mercury Intoxication in Children: A Single-Center Retrospective StudyPediatr Emerg Care. 2022;38(10):481-488. doi:10.1097/PEC.0000000000002834
  23. Güngör O, Özkaya AK, Kirik S, et al. Acute Mercury Poisoning in a Group of School ChildrenPediatr Emerg Care. 2019;35(10):696-699. doi:10.1097/PEC.0000000000001011
  24. Zhao M, Li Y, Wang Z. Mercury and Mercury-Containing Preparations: History of Use, Clinical Applications, Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Pharmacokinetics in Traditional Chinese MedicineFront Pharmacol. 2022;13:807807. doi:10.3389/fphar.2022.807807
  25. Sah D, Verma PK, Kumari KM, Lakhani A. Chemical partitioning of fine particle-bound As, Cd, Cr, Ni, Co, Pb and assessment of associated cancer risk due to inhalation, ingestion and dermal exposureInhal Toxicol. 2017;29(11):483-493. doi:10.1080/08958378.2017.1406563

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