Heavy Metal Definition and List

What are the heavy metals?

Mercury is a heavy, toxic metal. It is considered a heavy metal.
Mercury is a heavy, toxic metal. It is considered a heavy metal. CORDELIA MOLLOY / Getty Images

Heavy Metal Definition

A heavy metal is a dense metal that is (usually) toxic at low concentrations.

Although the phrase "heavy metal" is common, there is no standard definition assigning metals as heavy metals. Some lighter metals and metalloids are toxic and thus are termed heavy metals, which some heavy metals, such as gold, typically are not toxic. Most heavy metals have a high atomic number, atomic weight and a specific gravity greater than 5.0 Heavy metals include some metalloids, transition metals, basic metals, lanthanides and actinides.

Although some metals meet certain criteria and not others, most would agree the elements mercury, bismuth, and lead are toxic metals with sufficiently high density.

Alternate Spellings: heavy metals

Examples: Examples of heavy metals include lead, mercury, cadmium, sometimes chromium. Less commonly, metals including iron, copper, zinc, aluminum, beryllium, cobalt, manganese and arsenic may be considered heavy metals.

List of Heavy Metals

If you go by the definition of a heavy metal as a metallic element with a density greater than 5, then the list of heavy metals is:

  • Titanium
  • Vanadium
  • Chromium
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Cobalt
  • Nickel
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Gallium
  • Germanium
  • Arsenic
  • Zirconium
  • Niobium
  • Molybdenum
  • Technetium
  • Ruthenium
  • Rhodium
  • Palladium
  • Silver
  • Cadmium
  • Indium
  • Tin
  • Tellurium
  • Lutetium
  • Hafnium
  • Tantalum
  • Tungsten
  • Rhenium
  • Osmium
  • Iridium
  • Platinum
  • Gold
  • Mercury
  • Thallium
  • Lead
  • Bismuth
  • Polonium
  • Astatine
  • Lanthanum
  • Cerium
  • Praseodymium
  • Neodymium
  • Promethium
  • Samarium
  • Europium
  • Gadolinium
  • Terbium
  • Dysprosium
  • Holmium
  • Erbium
  • Thulium
  • Ytterbium
  • Actinium
  • Thorium
  • Protactinium
  • Uranium
  • Neptunium
  • Plutonium
  • Americium
  • Curium
  • Berkelium
  • Californium
  • Einsteinium
  • Fermium
  • Nobelium
  • Radium
  • Lawrencium
  • Rutherfordium
  • Dubnium
  • Seaborgium
  • Bohrium
  • Hassium
  • Meitnerium
  • Darmstadtium
  • Roentgenium
  • Copernicium
  • Elements 113-118

Keep in mind, this list includes both natural and synthetic elements, as well as elements that are heavy, but necessary for animal and plant nutrition.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Heavy Metal Definition and List." ThoughtCo, Nov. 21, 2016, thoughtco.com/definition-of-heavy-metal-605190. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2016, November 21). Heavy Metal Definition and List. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-heavy-metal-605190 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Heavy Metal Definition and List." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-heavy-metal-605190 (accessed November 24, 2017).