Periodically, reports come out about the toxicity of aluminum and its use in cooking utensils and beverage cans. The imminent report from an already twice-delayed inquest on the pollution of drinking water to Camelford, a small Cornish town in the UK, 24 years ago has re-ignited the controversy over the presence of aluminum in our environment.
Twenty tons of aluminum sulphate was accidently released into the drinking water and then essentially covered up by the authorities for three weeks, by which time most of the local population had ingested large levels of the metal into their bodies. Most people subsequently recovered, but there were many reports of illness as a result, and a 58 year-old-woman’s death due to a rare and aggressive form of Alzheimer’s blamed, with post-mortem support, on the drinking water contamination.
A Telegraph article leads the current re-awakening of worries, calling aluminum the silent killer, but journalistic hubris aside, the article does go on to explain that the case against aluminum has thankfully moved on from fear of aluminum cooking utensils and beverage cans to identify far-more pervasive sources of contamination in our environment.
Aluminum is sometimes termed a ubiquitous metal because it’s present everywhere far beyond our recognition, as cans, cooking foil and car bodies. As medscape points out, aluminum is the third-most prevalent element and the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, representing approximately 8 percent of total mineral components.
Although in greater concentrations the metal can be toxic, the body usually flushes out 95 percent via the kidneys; but some people with renal complaints, the very young and certain other indiviudals absorb proportionally more. Unfortunately, the metal is present widely in our diets and the quantities appear to be rising quite quickly.
Little widespread authoritive research is available, as health authorities refuse to see it as a national problem, but private and university research suggests the presence in food, drinking water and body-care products are progressively increasing our exposure. One website lists some everyday sources starting with household products such as baking powder, food colorings, self-rising flour, salt, buffered aspirin, antacid tablets, cereal products, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, toothpaste and in particular, in tooth-whitening products, antiperspirants, cosmetics, body lotions and creams, shampoos and conditioners, lip balms, soaps, sunscreen, and suntan lotions.
Carbonated drinks have been identified as a source of aluminum, although whether this is due to their containment in aluminum cans or by virtue of the ingredients/method of production is unclear. Vaccines are a particular sources of concern, as they not only contain significant amounts of aluminum to aid the uptake of the vaccine, but they are injected intravenously, bypassing the gut and kidneys; medscape estimates 40 percent of the aluminum given in vaccines is retained in adults and up to 75 percent in infants.
Infants are undoubtedly the most at risk. Aluminum appears to impair brain function in addition to other organs and infants are less capable of flushing it out their system. One study in the UK on 16 of the leading formula milk brands for children up to the age of 1, published in 2010, showed that traces of the metal exceeded the levels legally allowed in drinking water, and in some cases were more than 40 times that found in breast milk.
In fact, the only controls on aluminum in our diets is in drinking water, even though aluminum sulphate is added to drinking water in some areas to improve water clarity.
Continued in Part Two.