Metals, like steel pipes in the Philippines, are a part of our daily lives. Cars, gadgets, appliances and infrastructures—all of them are made of metal. When there is metal, rust is almost always inevitable. Metal that is exposed to the elements will likely have rust and flaking parts, bringing you the risk of rust ingestion or iron toxicity.
Small amounts of rust in your system are not considered deadly. There small traces of iron in your body and these are necessary for the oxygen to be distributed all throughout the system. However, ingesting too much rust can lead to a number of health issues or, when things get worse, death.
What is rust?
Rust is another name for iron oxide. It occurs when iron or any alloy with iron in it is exposed to oxygen and moisture for a long period of time. As time passes, the oxygen combines with the metal, forming a new compound called an oxide, which weakens the bonds of metal itself. It is important to note that only iron and its alloys can rust; other metals simply corrode.
The main catalyst for the rusting process is water. Structures made of iron or steel might appear solid but the water molecules can penetrate the pits and cracks in any exposed metal. The hydrogen atoms in water molecules combine with other elements to form acids. If chloride ions are present, like with saltwater, the corrosion will occur faster. Meanwhile, the oxygen atoms combine with the metallic atoms to form an oxide compound that can destroy the metal. As the atoms combines, the metal weakens and makes the structure brittle and crumbly.
What can rust do to the body?
One of the most common forms of rust ingestion is through consumption. It can come from the water that passed through rusty pipes or from eating food that was prepared using rusty utensils. Rust is known to have a strange, metallic taste. This deters people from ingesting it in toxic amounts. However, with prolonged ingestion like consuming contaminated water, it can cause serious health issues like diarrhea, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting. In worse case scenarios, liver failure and major cardiovascular conditions may occur.
A more dangerous form of rust ingestion is by inhalation. This can happen while buffing out the rust spots on a rusty surface or by breathing smoke that contains rust particles. Since rust is a heavy metal, it will settle in the lungs after prolonged exposure. When the body cannot expel the excess rust, metabolic acidosis can occur, which leads to rapid breathing, lethargy, confusion and even shock or death.
If you get fever, shortness of breath and vomiting of blood after exposure to air-borne rust particles, visit a hospital immediately for treatment.
If you have metals in your house that is regularly exposed to water and rust-inducing elements, then it is ideal to keep a close eye on them. Once you see rust forming, it is for the best to take immediate action to reduce the risk in your family. Replace these metals if necessary. That way, you won’t have to deal with rust-related injuries or diseases in the future.