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A recent study has shown that people who have heavy exposure to certain types of metal are at increased risk of heart disease. The research team at the BMJ have confirmed this after reviewing studies of around 350,000 participants from around the world.

The studies, led by Dr Rajiv Chowdhury from the University of Cambridge, showed that exposure to high levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead or copper increased the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease.

Out of the study participants, around 13,000 suffered from heart disease and about 4,200 had a stroke. It was found that those with the highest exposure to arsenic were 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those with low exposure. Those with the highest exposure to cadmium had a 33 percent higher risk, while those exposed to high levels of lead had 43 percent increased risk. Exposure to higher levels of copper leads to the biggest increased risk, at 81 percent higher.

These metals have previously been linked to increased risks of other harmful conditions, including cancer, particularly in high doses.  However this most recent research has highlighted that the risk of heart disease can increase even after relatively low level exposure to the metals.   Further studies are now needed into this matter, as until now, relatively little investigations have been carried out.   A report by the World Health Organisation earlier this year failed to recognised heavy metal exposure as a factor contributing to increases in non-communicable diseases and the BMJ have said this was a “major omission.”

The authors of the recent studies have called on governments to take action to monitor and reduce sources of heavy metal exposure.   Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and copper are found naturally in the earth’s crust, however more dangerous levels are found in cigarettes and in certain industrial processes.   The risk of smoking are clearly well known, however many employers still fail to take adequate steps to protect workers from exposure to harmful levels of metal at work.  The toxic substances are often used in paint, pesticides and in the production of plastics. Employers in these industries must ensure exposure to harmful metals are kept to the lowest possible levels and provide adequate protection through the use of suitable masks and provision of ventilation.  If they fail in their duties then the consequences can be deadly.

Blog by Claire Campbell, Solicitor

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