J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1999;37(2):279-92. doi: 10.1081/clt-100102426.


The use of zinc in metal alloys and medicinal lotions dates back before the time of Christ. Currently, most of the commercial production of zinc involves the galvanizing of iron and the manufacture of brass. Some studies support the use of zinc gluconate lozenges to treat the common cold, but there are insufficient data at this time to recommend the routine use of these lozenges. Zinc is an essential co-factor in a variety of cellular processes including DNA synthesis, behavioral responses, reproduction, bone formation, growth, and wound healing. Zinc is a relatively common metal with an average concentration of 50 mg/kg soil and a range of 10-300 mg/kg soil. Meat, seafood, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and whole grains contain relatively high concentrations of zinc. The mobility of zinc in anaerobic environments is poor and therefore severe zinc contamination occurs primarily near points sources of zinc release. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 15 mg zinc. The ingestion of 1-2 g zinc sulfate produces emesis. Zinc compounds can produce irritation and corrosion of the gastrointestinal tract, along with acute renal tubular necrosis and interstitial nephritis. Inhalation of high concentrations of zinc chloride from smoke bombs detonated in closed spaces may cause chemical pneumonitis and adult respiratory distress syndrome. In the occupational setting inhalation of fumes from zinc oxide is the most common cause of metal fume fever (fatigue, chills, fever, myalgias, cough, dyspnea, leukocytosis, thirst, metallic taste, salivation). Zinc compounds are not suspected carcinogens. Treatment of zinc toxicity is supportive. Calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetate (CaNa2EDTA) is the chelator of choice based on case reports that demonstrate normalization of zinc concentrations, but there are few clinical data to confirm the efficacy of this agent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Pollutants / pharmacokinetics
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Organometallic Compounds / chemistry
  • Organometallic Compounds / pharmacokinetics
  • Organometallic Compounds / toxicity
  • Zinc / chemistry
  • Zinc / pharmacokinetics
  • Zinc / toxicity*
  • Zinc Compounds / chemistry
  • Zinc Compounds / pharmacokinetics
  • Zinc Compounds / toxicity


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Zinc Compounds
  • Zinc