Aluminum

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Aluminum is "most abundant metal in the earth’s crust."[1] Aluminum is always found combined with other elements, including oxygen, silicon, and fluorine. Aluminum is lightweight and silvery-white in color.

Uses

Aluminum is used to make beverage cans, pots and pans, airplanes, siding and roofing, and foil.[2] It is also mixed with small amounts of other metals to produce aluminum alloys, which are stronger and harder than aluminum alone. Aluminum compounds are used in water-treatment, abrasives and furnace linings, antacids, astringents, buffered aspirin, food additives, cosmetics, and antiperspirants.

In the Environment

As an element, aluminum cannot be destroyed; it can only change its form. In the air, it binds to small particles which can stay suspended for many days.[3] A small amount of aluminum can be found dissolved in lakes, streams, and rivers. When aluminum is in soil, it can be taken up by some plants. Virtually all food, water, air, and soil contain some aluminum. Aluminum is also present in sewage sludge. The Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey, a 2009 test of 84 sewage sludge samples from around the country conducted by the U.S. EPA found aluminum in every sample in concentrations ranging from 1400 to 57,300 parts per million. Levels of aluminum are not regulated in sewage sludge that is applied to land as fertilizer.

Human Exposure

As aluminum is so common, humans are exposed in food, water, air, and soil. The average adult in the U.S. eats about 7-9 mg aluminum per day in their food.[4] Humans may be exposed to more aluminum if it is present in the dust in workplace air, or if they live where aluminum is mined or processed, near certain hazardous waste sites, or where aluminum levels are naturally high. As some products (such as antacids) contain aluminum, humans are also exposed when eating them, especially when drinking citrus products at the same time. Anther route of exposure is vaccinations.

Toxicity

Very small amounts of aluminum that are inhaled, ingested, or contacted will enter the bloodstream. Usually this is not harmful, but high levels can result in health effects. Workers who breathe high levels of aluminum dust can have lung problems like coughing, or even decreased nervous system function.[5]

People with kidney diseease can store a lot of aluminum, resulting in bone or brain diseases that may be caused by the excess aluminum.[6] Some studies correlate high levels of aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's disease, but other studies have not found a correlation. Animal studies show that aluminum toxicity targets the nervous system.

Articles and resources

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References

  1. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Aluminum, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  2. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Aluminum, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  3. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Aluminum, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  4. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Aluminum, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  5. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Aluminum, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  6. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Aluminum, Accessed August 28, 2010.

External resources

External articles