Of the known elements, nearly 80% are either metals or metalloids. The highly reactive nature of most metals result in their forming complexes with other compounds such oxygen, sulfide and chloride. Although this reactivity is the primary means by which they are toxic, many metals, in trace amounts, are vital to normal physiological processes; examples include iron in oxygen transport, manganese and selenium in antioxidant defense and zinc in metabolism. With these essential metals toxicity occurs when concentrations are either too low or too high. For some metals there are no physiological concentrations that are beneficial; as such these metals only have the potential to cause toxicity. This chapter focuses on four of these: arsenic, mercury, lead and thallium.
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