Home IPEN CEE Hot Spots Rubik - Albania Health Hazard

Elements and compounds that were found or are assumed to be present in the soil and water in the processing area of Rubik copper plant in significant amounts (Cu, Pb, Cr, Cd, dioxins) can pose certain dangers to the environment and human health. Let’s focus on them.

Copper is a metal chemical element with the symbol Cu. It naturally occurs in rock, soil, water, sediment and air. Most usual are compounds such as sulfides, carbonates, and the oxide. It is an essential element for human heath, but high intake of copper can be dangerous to human body be it through alimentary tract, skin or other ways.

Drinking water containing with high level of copper can cause problems such as nausea, diarrhoea, epigastric pain and discomfort or stomach cramps with their seriousness depending on the level of copper in the water and the length of exposure. Children under one year of age and people with liver damage or Wilson’s disease are more sensitive to copper. The maximum level for copper in drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 1.3 mg/l.

Chronic exposure to copper dust can irritate the nose, mouth, and eyes and cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and diarrhoea. Also copper is considered to be the most potent catalyst for dioxin formation providing surface upon which dioxins can form.

Lead is a heavy metal chemical element with the symbol Pb usually occurring in ore with zinc, silver and copper. It has characteristics of a cumulative poison which means that it stays in the body for a very long time and can build up from many years of exposure to low levels. Exposure to lead can be toxic to humans and wildlife.

Lead and its compounds can be absorbed to human body through ingestion or inhalation. High intake of lead can cause abdominal cramps, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, constipation, anemia, tiredness, nerve damage, vomiting, convulsions, anorexia, or brain damage. Even with mildly elevated blood lead levels can be connected with toxic effects to the brain, blood cells, kidneys or to the central nervous system and may lead to long-term neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits. Children are more sensitive to lead exposure than adults because lead is more easily absorbed into growing bodies (they can absorb up to half of the amount of lead ingested), and organisms of small children are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Children poisoned by lead can suffer from learning disabilities, delays in mental development, mental retardation, speech handicaps etc. High blood lead levels can cause convulsions, coma and death. Lead poisoning has several symptoms such as headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, irritability, anemia or weight loss.

Wildlife and waterfowl are also frequently poisoned through the ingestion of lead and lead shot.

Cadmium is a heavy metal chemical element with the symbol Cd and its occurrence and production are mainly connected with zinc and copper mining, refining and smelting. Cadmium and its compounds are toxic and can be absorbed to human body through ingestion and inhalation. It is a cumulative poison which means that it stays in the body for a very long time and can build up from many years of exposure to low levels.

Chronic exposure to cadmium dust or fume in the air can irreversibly damage the lungs leading to shortness of breath and emphysema. Exposure to high levels of cadmium can cause lungs damage or death. The Enviroment Protection Agency set a limit of 0,005mg cadmium per 1 litre water. High levels of cadmium in food or drinking water can irritate the stomach, cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Due to its cumulative character, cadmium mainly accumulates in the kidneys and liver and can lead to serious kidney failure, nephrotoxicity, renal stone formation, bone disease and persistent proteinuria at high exposures. Acute cadmium exposure may cause liver injury, convulsions, muscle cramps, shock, renal failure or sensory disturbances. Long term exposure to cadmium can lead to high blood pressure, liver disease, iron-poor blood, lung, intestinal nerve or brain damage or fragile bones. It also causes abnormalities in calcium, phosporus and vitamin D metabolism. Cadmium metal and some of its compounds are listed as carcinogens by The International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Chromium is a naturally occurring metal chemical element with the sign Cr. It can be found in rocks, animals, soil, volcanic dust and gases in different forms, most commonly as trivalent chromium (Cr III) and hexavalent chromium (Cr VI). It can be absorbed to human body by ingestion, inhalation or dermal absorption.

Trivalent compounds (Cr III) are important components of healthy human and animal diet and they do not cause any serious damage to organism. However, hexavalent compounds are highly toxic carcinogens causing death if ingested in large doses. Inhalation of high levels of hexavalent chromium compounds can cause runny nose, nosebleeds, ulcers and holes in the nasal septum. Ingesting large amounts of these compounds can cause stomach upsets and ulcers, convulsions, kidney and liver damage or death. Dermal absorption with some of these compounds can cause skin ulcers.

Since copper is the most potent catalyst for dioxin formation and since copper ore melting is one of the sources of dioxin pollution, we can assume that Rubik area (especially copper slag) may be contaminated with dioxins as well.

Dioxins (Polychlorinated dibenzodioxins, PCDDs) can be described as chemicals that are highly toxic and highly persistent in the environment. Due to their ability of bioaccumulation, dioxins climb up the food chain and are absorbed by human body mainly through diet. Even low exposure to dioxins can be dangerous. The problems connected with dioxin exposure contain cancer, birth defects, inability to maintain pregnancy, decreased fertility, reduced sperm counts, endometriosis, diabetes, learning disabilities, immune system suppression, lung and skin problems etc. It has been proven that dioxins have similar effects on non-human animals as well.