Fact Sheet: Thallium


Brief Overview:
Contaminant: Thallium
Category: Inorganic
Treatment: Activated alumina; Ion exchange

Thallium is a metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other elements. The greatest use of thallium is in specialized electronic research equipment.

Thallium is not produced in the US. Approximately 4,500 lbs. of thallium and its compounds were reportedly imported in 1987. Man-made sources of thallium pollution are gaseous emission of cement factories, coal burning power plants, and metal sewers. The leaching of thallium from ore processing operations is the major source of elevated thallium concentrations in water. Thallium is a trace metal associated with copper, gold, zinc, and cadmium.

What happens to Thallium when it is released to the environment? Thallium does not long persist if released to water, but does have a strong tendency to accumulate in aquatic life. If released to land, it may bind to alkaline soils, but may otherwise migrate to ground water.

Short-term: EPA has found thallium to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: gastrointestinal irritation; nerve damage.
Long-term: Thallium has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: changes in blood chemistry; damage to liver, kidney, intestinal and testicular tissues; hair loss.

Activated alumina; Ion Exchange.