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Thallium is a blue-white metal trace in the earth's crust. In the past, thallium was obtained as a by-product from the processing of other ores. In its pure form, thallium is odorless and tasteless. It can also be found in combination with other elements such as bromine, chlorine, fluorine and iodine. Thallium is mainly used in the manufacture of electronic devices. It is also of limited use in the manufacture of specialized glass and in certain medical procedures.

Exposure to thallium occurs mainly from the consumption of food. Exposure to higher thallium concentrations can occur in the workplace. Inhalation of high concentrations of thallium can lead to disorders of the nervous system, while ingestion of high thallium leads to vomiting, diarrhea, transient hair loss and more.

How does thallium enter the environment?
  • Thallium enters the environment primarily from the combustion and melting of carbon in which it is present in small quantities.
  • It stays in the air, water and soil for a long time and does not break down.
  • Some compounds of thallium are removed from the atmosphere by rain and snow.
  • Thallium is absorbed by plants and enters the food chain.
  • Thallium accumulates in fish and shellfish.
How is one exposed to thallium?
  • Eating food contaminated with thallium is an important source of exposure for most people.
  • Air inhalation in workplaces in industries using thallium.
  • By smoking cigarettes.
  • Living near areas with waste containing thallium.
  • Touching and / or eating (children) soil contaminated with thallium.
  • Breathing low thallium levels in air and water.
How can thallium affect health?

Exposure to high levels of thallium can lead to serious health issues. In a study of workers exposed to thallium at their workplace for several years, effects on the nervous system were reported, such as numbness in the fingers and toes.

Studies in people who received large quantities of thallium in a short period of time reported vomiting, diarrhea, temporary hair loss and effects on the nervous system, lungs, heart, liver and kidneys, and may also cause death. The effects of ingestion of low amounts of thallium for a long time are not known.

No genetic abnormalities were reported in children whose mothers were exposed to low levels of thallium from eating infected fruits and vegetables. Studies in rats exposed to high levels of thallium have shown abnormalities in the development of their offspring.

It is unknown whether inhalation or ingestion of thallium affects human reproduction. Studies in rats receiving thallium for several weeks have shown adverse effects on reproduction. There is no information on health effects due to skin contact with thallium.

Several toxic metals, including mercury, lead, thallium and cadmium, are normally or partially excreted in the bile.


How can one determine if one has been exposed to thallium?

Thallium levels can be measured in the urine and hair and blood and other biological materials can also be measured. However, blood counts are not a good indicator of exposure, as thallium remains in the blood for a very short time.

We can measure thallium levels in most biological materials.

Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, Inductively Coupled Argon Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!




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