Heavy metals are commonly found in water and can pose significant health risks. Acute exposure to these metals can result in serious health problems or even death, while chronic exposure can cause severe health issues that develop slowly over time. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the common heavy metals found in water and the potential health risks associated with them. We’ll also explore the various techniques used to analyze metals in water and how a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) can help water testing laboratories efficiently manage the data generated from these analyses.

Acute and Chronic Metal Poisoning

Acute heavy metal poisoning typically happens when someone is exposed to a large amount of metal at once, such as during an industrial spill. Heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, nickel, mercury, chromium, and zinc are commonly used in industrial processes, including color pigments and alloys, and can pose a risk to workers. If someone experiences acute exposure to heavy metals, it can lead to serious health problems or even death.

There is mounting evidence that long-term, low-level exposure to heavy metals can also have harmful health effects. The primary source of exposure for humans is often contaminated drinking water, which has led to high rates of illness and death worldwide. Symptoms of chronic heavy metal poisoning can be severe, but they generally develop more slowly over time compared to acute exposure symptoms.

Common Heavy Metals Found in Water and Their Potential Health Risks

There are several heavy metals that can commonly be found in water and have the potential to cause health issues.

  • Aluminium

The primary source of aluminium in water is the leaching of rock and soil, as well as from excessive dosing in treatment plants. Its presence in water can result in changes in taste and color, as well as discoloration of skin and teeth. Dialysis patients are at a particularly high risk of experiencing adverse effects from aluminum exposure.

  • Barium

The presence of barium in water can be traced back to sources such as mineral deposits, disposal of drilling wastes, smelting of copper, and manufacturing of motor vehicle parts. The potential health hazards associated with exposure to barium include various symptoms such as breathing difficulties, elevated blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, gastrointestinal irritation, brain inflammation, muscle weakness, and damage to organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart, and spleen.

  • Arsenic

Arsenic in water can be attributed to various sources, such as leaching from natural deposits, wood preservatives, pesticides, industrial deposits, petroleum production, semiconductor manufacturing, or coal power plants. Arsenic contamination can cause severe skin problems, and long-term exposure is associated with a greater risk of developing certain types of cancer and heart disease. 

  • Cadmium

Cadmium can infiltrate water from a range of sources, including natural deposits that erode over time, discharges from metal refineries, and runoff from recycling plants or waste batteries. Brief exposure to cadmium can lead to flu-like symptoms and harm the lungs, whereas prolonged exposure can lead to various diseases affecting the kidneys, bones, and lungs.

  • Copper

Copper contamination in water can stem from various sources such as industrial waste discharge or the leaching and pollution of water due to the corrosion of copper pipes used in plumbing. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal illness, abdominal and muscle pain can be observed in individuals suffering from acute copper poisoning, whereas liver poisoning and kidney failure have been reported in severe cases.

  • Lead

Older buildings that have not undergone renovations in years may still have lead pipes, as well as brass fittings and solder that contain lead. Lead can also come from other sources such as industrial activities, mining, and smelting. Excessive levels of lead in drinking water can lead to lead poisoning, which is associated with several health issues such as headaches, high blood pressure, kidney failure, miscarriage, and premature birth.

  • Mercury

The primary sources of mercury in water are natural deposits and emissions from volcanic activity, forest fires, and fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum. Human activities such as mining, pulp, and paper production also contribute to the release of mercury, resulting in a gradual rise in mercury levels in the environment. The presence of mercury in water can lead to various health risks, such as alterations in hair and fingernail appearance, damage to the peripheral nervous system, and feelings of fatigue and irritability.

  • Selenium

The primary origins of selenium in water are volcanic eruptions, as well as the burning of fossil fuels and industrial byproducts. Exposure to high levels of selenium over a brief period can result in health concerns such as headaches, insomnia, kidney damage, and memory impairment.

What are Some of the Common Techniques for Analyzing Heavy Metals in Water?

Spectrometry techniques are frequently employed to analyze the presence of metals in water since they offer the necessary sensitivity to satisfy diverse regulatory requirements worldwide. The methods used to test for metals in water include Atomic Absorption spectrometry (AA), Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES), and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS). AA is a technique that analyzes one element at a time using a flame or graphite furnace, while ICP-OES can test for multiple elements simultaneously or sequentially. ICP-MS is a highly sensitive method that uses an inductively coupled plasma to ionize the sample, enabling faster and more precise analysis than AA.

Speciation analysis is used to separate and quantify different molecular forms of these compounds. It’s also used to determine if toxic types of arsenic or mercury are present in water. 

How Does a Water LIMS System Streamline Water Testing Laboratory Operations?

Spectrometry is a powerful analytical tool for detecting and quantifying the presence of metals in water samples. However, the sheer volume of data generated from spectrometry analysis can be overwhelming for water testing laboratories. That’s where a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) comes in. A Water LIMS system streamlines laboratory workflows by managing and tracking samples, instruments, and data at a centralized location. With a water LIMS system, water testing laboratories can easily manage and monitor sample analysis, generate reports, and ensure regulatory compliance. A water LIMS system also allows for greater automation of tasks, such as sample tracking, instrument calibration scheduling, and transferring test results from instruments to a LIMS, thereby reducing the risk of errors and improving laboratory efficiency. Overall, the combination of spectrometry and LIMS is a powerful combination for ensuring accurate and efficient water testing.


In conclusion, heavy metals in water are a significant concern, and exposure to them can cause severe health problems. While acute heavy metal poisoning occurs from exposure to a large amount of metal at once, chronic exposure can cause severe health issues that develop slowly over time. Aluminium, barium, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, and selenium are some of the most common heavy metals found in water and have the potential to cause health issues. Techniques such as Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (AA), Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES), and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) can be used to test for metals in water, and Speciation analysis can help determine the type of metal present. A LIMS can also help manage the data generated from these analyses and automate workflows for higher efficiency. It is essential to take steps to ensure the safety of the water supply and prevent exposure to heavy metals to protect public health.

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