Toxic Elements With No Nutritional Value

Do You Know Which Elements Are Toxic?

Aluminum is one of the most common elements in the Earth's crust, yet serves no biological function in humans.
Aluminum is one of the most common elements in the Earth's crust, yet serves no biological function in humans. MirageC / Getty Images

Have you ever wondered which elements are toxic? Everything is toxic if the dose is high enough, so I've compiled a short list of elements that have no nutritional value, even in trace amounts. Some of these elements accumulate in the body, so there is no truly safe exposure limit for those elements (e.g., lead, mercury). Barium and aluminum are examples of elements which can be excreted, at least to a certain extent.

Most of these elements are metals. The man-made elements are radioactive and toxic whether they are metals or not.

  • Aluminum
  • Antimony
  • Arsenic (metalloid)
  • Barium
  • Beryllium
  • Cadmium
  • Hexavalent Chromium Cr6+ (Cr3+ is necessary in trace amounts for proper nutrition)
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Osmium
  • Thallium
  • Vanadium

    Radioactive Metals
     
  • Polonium (metalloid)
  • Thorium
  • Radium
  • Uranium
  • Transuranium elements (e.g., polonium, americium)
  • Radioactive isotopes of metals that might not otherwise be highly toxic (e.g., cobalt-60, strontium-90)

Surprises on the List

One of the biggest surprises on the list is that aluminum serves no known biological function in humans. Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth's crust and the most abundant metal.

Another surprise is that you can't use flavor to identify toxic elements. Some poisonous metals taste sweet. Classic examples include beryllium and lead. Lead acetate or "sugar of lead" was actually used as a sweetener until fairly recently.