Heavy metals get absorbed in the body, mutate our future children
Published 27th September 2009 - 6 comments - 7419 views -
Interview with Prof. Ivelin Kulev, Doctor of sciences, Sofia University “St.Kliment Ohridski”, Dep. Analyt. Chem., radioechologist, member of the Union of Scientists in Bulgaria and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry
I found a book about heavy metals, which is written by your colleague, Prof. D-r Stavri Stoqnov. But the issue is from 1999. Prof. Kulev, how do you see the subject of heavy metals studying now?
We work on this subject for a long time. The first researches, which have been made, are around the 80-es.
What can you tell me about the influence of the heavy metals, their ecological and health side-effects.
There is a map of Europe, maybe for 25 years now. Bulgaria is one of the research countries members. The map is being done with the valuation of hard metals concentration in mosses.
Why exactly in mosses?
There are two ways to find out if the atmosphere, which you are breathing, is polluted. You go with an installation, suck the air and valuate the level of heavy metals on the filter. Then you define the metals you have found.
But there is always the problem, hat the day, you have chosen about the research, is rainy or not. Or even maybe the day before that. Then you have secondary factors. Therefore it is better if you use some indicator. Such indicators are exactly the mosses, because they absorb only from the air.
My colleagues and I worked on this question for 25-30 years. We initiate something, which is definitely Bulgarian – the dandelion indicator. The dandelion is one of the heavy metals` accumulators. If you analyze its leaf, you can explore the pitting of the concrete metals in the concrete area. Of course the plant grows up, so there have been studies about the time when you must pick the leaf, the precise way to analyze them and so on.
In the world there are several acknowledged groups of plants – indicators. One of the groups is that of the mosses, some other for example is the group of the vascular plants (higher plants). The higher plants are 8 and among them is the dandelion, which we suggested for an indicator. At the moment there are maps of USA, Poland, they make also one of Canada. We have such map of Bulgaria. The poplar is also an indicator and there is also such map of Bulgaria, done with this specific kind of poplar.
What can you tell me of the amount of heavy metals in our country?
The Bulgarian thinks that he lives in the dirtiest country in the world. That is not true. Let me give you an example with one of our studies in Salonika, Greece. It is many times dirtier than our capital Sofia. We have comparisons also with the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary. The biggest contamination factor here is the dust.
Strange, in the last years the situations doesn`t seem that way?
It’s true that these numbers are little bit elder, but that does not mean anything. Even in certain aspect these pollution in Bulgaria is reduced. That happened not because of some efforts about the cleaning; it is because the quantity of the deposited waste, the emissions got lower. The industrial production became smaller, we haven`t even reached its level from 89-es.
Which are the hot spots in Bulgaria?
A hot spot is the town Kuklen, near city Plovdiv. There was the famous lead-zinc mill, which dumped these two metals. Now their levels are lower, because the production reduced. Of course, the soils are polluted, but that doesn`t mean that all the time there are being thrown away such big amounts.
Other hot point is Kremikovtzi area. The coal burning is one of the main sources of heavy metals. For example the use of Ukrainian coals, which have been used before and maybe still – I am not sure. They contain very high level of quicksilver.
It is important to mention that the heavy metals are not acute poison. Acute means sharp – you swallow it and you get sick straight away. No, they accumulate in the organism, so you need to be exposed to it for a very long time to reach lethal sickness. The human will not die, but the danger comes from other place. The heaviest metals have the possibility to replace some of the elements, which build some enzymes. There enzymes have concrete functions, so they are very important. Consequently they can get in the fetus, which the woman is carrying. So they can lead to genetic changes into the new organism. The harm will show itself on the next generation. Different malformation may occur. It all depends how long and how much the mother has inhaled pullulated air.
For example at the moment the lead pollution has sharply decreased, because now cars use leadless petrol. The lead is one of the elements, because of which there is a global contamination. Despite the lack of lead on the South or North Pole and no one produces such there - you will find an enhanced lead content. It is deep in the glaciers, which are being drilled. Also you can find lead in the liver of penguins.
There are few world-wide known poisonings with heavy metals. One of them comes from Japan and it`s concerning entirely quicksilver. It is the so called Minamata disease, which was first discovered in Minimata city in Kumamato prefecture in 1956. It was caused by the release of methyl mercury in the industrial wastewater from a chemical factory, which continued from 1932 to 1968. This toxic chemical bioaccumulated in shellfish and fish in Minimata Bay and the Shiranui Sea, which when eaten by the local populace resulted in mercury poisoning. As result 2,265 victims have been officially recognised on March 2001, 1,784 of which have died.
Another case is in Iran. By mistake a consignment of corn for crops, cultivated with pesticide rich on mercury, has been send. Instead for crops, they have been used for bread making, causing the death of nearly 400 people. However these are extreme cases of acute poisonings. Its main factors are the continuous usage of one food type, something which is hard to happen in Europe, because people here don`t eat one and the same food every day. For such cases like with the fish it follows to have a full control on the mercury level in eatable meats.
Here for example mercury evolves from the production in Devin. There is being produced chlorine in so called workshops for chlorine-alkaline electrolyze. The mercury is on the bottoms of the electrolyze tubs. By the chemical processes the quicksilver dissolves, despite of the public opinion that it doesn`t and so it gets in the environment. Despite of all safety measures, the mercury pollutes the water that is often around such factories. The quicksilver is in metal form and it is not that poisoning. You will not die if a thermometer breaks near you. If you live your whole life in a room full of scattered quicksilver, then you might get ill.
But in the water there are microorganisms, which very fast turn the metallic quicksilver into a methyl quicksilver. These are organic combinations which are thousands time more poisoning then the quicksilver by itself. Then they become fish-food and accumulate in their meat fat. That is why if you consume such fish, you will find much more quicksilver content compared to the water. The changes depend on that where you are on the food chain. On the top of it stays the human and he accumulates everything else – plants, animals. Plants take it from polluted soil, soil from water and so on. For example the predatory animals are much more affected then the vegetarians. Much more toxic are herbicides, pesticides.
Which are the main ways for the pollution in Bulgaria?
On first place is the atmosphere. The coal burning is one of the main reasons. There is always around the thermo-electric power-stations. If the stations works on gas, there will be the lowest pollution degree, but if it works on coals – the danger for the environment will be bigger. The half of the electric power in Bulgaria comes from thermo-electric power-station Maritza-Iztok, which uses maybe the worst coal in the world, rich on sulphur contents, with many metal ions and etc.
How often is being measured the concentration level of these pollutants?
All the time.
Are these record public?
Yes, the ministry of environment does these records and publicizes them. But without being able to prove that I must say, the most of the formal representatives of these studies say that officially there are no such results…They explain that there are no proves. Only few of the researches, most of them not in the ministry, dare to do that. The question is much more complex, because there is the big money. For example Maritza-Iztok has been bought by an American company; also Bulgarians take part by big investments. And suddenly it becomes clear that the station pollutes the environment. Of course, that it does! And all are aware of that. And then there stand up a doctor and said:”No, there is no such thing. Here you can see the records.”
And what about researches on people?
The screening on people is very difficult. It takes big resources and a very long period of time. Also there are many side-factors, which influence when the disease really shows up – like that if you are smoker or no.
Statistically you can`t prove that the people from for example the area of Maritza-Iztok have increased lead level in their blood. At the moment there is a project, financed by the ministry of education, which concerns the assessment of the mercury content in coals, Maritza-Iztok. We speak about tons of mercury per year, despite of its small content in coals. But when you calculate then one such station makes 10,000 tones per night – it doesn`t seem so little anymore. All of that is thrown in the atmosphere; there is no clearing installation, because it cost that much as if you build a whole thermo-electric power-station.
What can you tell me about the most danger heavy metals? Like cadmium for example?
The global pollutants with heavy metals are lead, mercury and cadmium. The lead-zinc factory in Plovdiv manufactured also cadmium. But compared to other countries the cadmium pollution here is not that big.
The map with the poplar has been done with the consciously avoiding of these well-known problem areas, because we are aware that there is contamination. We wanted to examine all the background area, so that we can see where is really polluted beyond this factories. We know that the mills near Pirdop, Devnia, Plovdiv, Kurdjali are in every case hot spots.
At the moment we know where and what is the pollution in the country. That is why the main financial help for environmental projects doesn`t go for tests, which cleat the fact “yes, here is polluted”. Such funding is being used for recultivation, restoring of the damages.
What about the prevention measures?
Yes, it is important too, for example Maritza-Iztok builds up a new big clearing installation, which is very expensive. It should have happened before, that is why it took so long, because some of their scientists explained that there is no such problem because of their station. They searched for other reasons just to distract the public attention.
Can you tell me if there are such serious cases with the cadmium?
As far as I am aware - no. The more problematic is the lead. I can tell you about the study of my colleagues, which they do at the moment, concerning archeological excavations. They used the same methods for the studying of excavations, as we did in the past for heavy metals. So, they work on a project about determination of platinum along the roads.
Very interesting. Why exactly platinum?
At the moment there is no such contamination in Bulgaria. But all the cars now work with accelerators based on platinum. Their role is to prevent the ejection of the poisoning carbon oxide from the waste gases. It oxidates to carbon oxide and the nitrogen oxides turn into nitrogen. But that means that during the work of the accelerator some platinum quantity comes off from the tailpipe. That is why the accelerators have some lifetime round 100, 000 – 150,000 km. And the change costs a lot, that`s why here is not that dangerous yet because most of the cars are old. The sensitivity degree of the analytical methods is still below the level of the platinum. But in countries like Germany, where such accelerators are used for more than 20 years, there are records for the increased content of platinum in the dust near roads. And this increasement is up to 1000 times. It is very low, on the border to the analytical measurement levels. No one knows how this metal operates on the people in such concentrations. That is why it could turn around someday that this prevention decision leads to injuries.
The smaller harm, right?
No, it`s just that nobody knows what happens when the platinum reacts into the organism. Because there is no other pure platinum in the air or water – only near the roads, in the plants near them too.
How it absorbs in the organism?
This metal does not dissolve in water, but in the winter you pour on the streets with some saltwort. As a result of the photochemical reactions this chloride ion can transform in elementary chlorine, which is able to dissolve the platinum. Once dissolved, it forms chlorine- platinum combinations, which are very stable and dissoluble in the water. Then they get in the soil and accumulate in the plants root systems.
The platinum effect is known only by the healing of cancer diseased. Its combinations are used in the chemotherapy and these procedures are very hard to take. They attack the tumor cells very well, but it requires putting concentrated doses in the organism.
Despite of the dangerous side-effects the patient really must choose the smaller harm instead of dying.
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