heavy metal definition

brownnl at vms1.bham.ac.uk brownnl at vms1.bham.ac.uk
Fri Dec 10 11:43:47 EST 1993

In article <1993Dec8.183147.26721 at picker.com>, gcohen at stdavids.picker.com (Gregg Cohen) writes:
> We got into a discussion today that asked the question:
> "What is the definition of a 'heavy metal', and which
> metals fulfill these requirements?
> We just couldn't find an 'official' definition.

This is a term that chemists don't seem to like to use even thought the rest
of us do (as microbiologists rarely use 'germ').  It is too non-specific.
Varying definitions exist, for example:

1. Those elements in the lower part of the periodic groups which are metals
(metals are another problem in chemical defintion).  This might exclude the top
row of transition elements, for example (Ti to Zn), but include Cs and Ba.

2. The soft 'b' class metals (see Frausto da Silva and Williams 'The Biological
Chemistry of the Elements', Pergamon Press, 1991; or Nieboer and Richardson,
Environ. Pollution (ser B) 1, 3-26, 1980).  The latter paper is an attempt to
replace the term with something which is chemically and biologically

Both classifications split many commonly accepted 'heavy metals' between 
classes. Numerous other working definitions exist, but are not chemically 
and/or biologically rigorous.

I hope that helps.  We work on heavy metals in bacteria, and haven't got a good
definition.  We always seem to find exceptions.  Maybe you should put the
same question to a chemical list.

|  Nigel L. Brown		| Tel: UK+21 414 6556                |
|  Biological Sciences		| Fax: UK+21 414 6557                |
|  Univ. Birmingham		| E_mail: N.L.Brown at bham.ac.uk       |
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