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Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2003 Sep;56(1):190-200.

Essential metals--case study on iron.

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  • 1Environmental Health Center, 23A Cetatii St., 3400 Cluj-Napoca, Romania.


Iron is a vital element in life. Because of the insolubility of iron oxides and sulfides the implication is that dissolved iron was fairly abundant and that oxygen and sulfide were rare in the atmosphere and ocean. Iron and its compounds present as pollutants in the atmosphere can cause deleterious effects to humans, animals, and materials. Analyses of urban air samples show that the iron content averages 1.6 microg/m(3), with the iron and steel industry probably the most likely source of emission. Iron is a natural component of soils and its concentration can be influenced by some industries. Iron concentration in surface water varies greatly, from 61 ppm to 2680 ppm. The disposition of iron in the human body is regulated by a complex mechanism to maintain homeostasis. Iron concentrations in body tissues must be tightly regulated because excessive iron leads to tissue damage, as a result of formation of free radicals. Iron has the capacity to accept and donate electrons readily. The content of body iron is regulated primarily by absorption since humans have no physiological mechanism by which excess iron is excreted. Iron has been identified as a component of asbestos and other mineral and synthetic fibers. Inhalation of iron oxide fumes or dust by workers in the metal industries may result in deposition of iron particles in lungs, producing an X-ray appearance resembling silicosis. During the last decades efforts regarding dietary iron supply focused mostly on the prevention of deficiencies, especially during growth and pregnancy. The chemical form of the iron influences absorption, as do interrelationships with other dietary components.

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