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Why are heavy metal ions such as those of Hg and Cd toxic to animals? While studying green chemistry I came to know about the Minamata disease caused by Hg and other disorders due to the accumulation of Hg and Cd so why at all are heavy metals toxic is the reason chemical or biological?

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  • $\begingroup$ Part of the reason is that these metals compete with other metals that are important for the body, or they alter the structure of a protein. For example, Hg will bind to certain proteins that contain selenium. This in turn will cause the protein to stop working properly. Another example is the NMDA receptor in neurons. Hg disrupts NMDA receptors because it is biologically similar to Ca (which are the metals that the NMDA receptors are designed for). $\endgroup$ – CoffeeIsLife Apr 18 '17 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ I think this question would get better answers at biology SE. $\endgroup$ – CoffeeIsLife Apr 18 '17 at 7:27
  • $\begingroup$ If I'm not mistaken, I think binding to sulfur is a bigger issue than selenium, but yes. As to why Hg(II) and Cd(II) bind to sulfur or selenium well, you may want to look into hard-soft acid-base theory. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Apr 18 '17 at 7:29

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