Environmental Factors that Contribute to Kidney Problems

smoke stacks to symbolize environmental factors that may contribute to kidney problems.

In past blogs, we have discussed possible risk factors for CKD. While some of these risk factors you can control, such as smoking, other health conditions and uncontrollable risk factors like age and ethnicity also play a role in the health of your kidneys. Other less commonly talked about causes of kidney disease and kidney failure are environmental toxins. In today’s blog, we wanted to shed some light on environmental factors that may contribute to kidney problems.


Mercury poisoning can cause various harmful effects on the body, including kidney damage. Many of us are aware of the link between mercury and seafood and the damaging and even deadly consequences of mercury exposure, but what many of us don’t know is that mercury occurs in various other environments. For example, manufacturing industries that produce batteries, lightbulbs, and other products are at risk of mercury exposure. Even those who do not work in manufacturing careers can be exposed through certain plants, meats, cereal, and water.


Lead is a common heavy metal used in paints, construction materials, battery manufacturing, and gas, among other things. In the past, you have probably heard of controversies surrounding lead paint used on imported toys. This controversy is due in part to the fact that lead can affect all the organs in the body, including the kidneys. Chronic kidney disease associated with lead exposure is referred to as lead neuropathy and may lead to other health problems. While kidney damage from lead exposure is uncommon in the United States, years of exposure may still lead to kidney problems, especially in those with other risk factors, or for children subjected to even minor exposure. The use of lead in paint and other materials has been widely discontinued but is still commonly used in other parts of the world. 


Uranium is an unknown environmental factor that contributes to kidney problems. It can be found in water, soil, and plants and can contribute to increased calcium and protein levels in the urine. While this may not seem too alarming, your kidneys function to rid the body of excess wastes, so increased calcium levels have the potential to cause acute kidney failure in extreme cases.


Cadmium exposure can occur in various ways, from lifestyle choices like smoking to work environments such as metal. Exposure can also come from consuming contaminated shellfish, water, or liver or kidney meats. A buildup of cadmium in the kidneys can cause kidney disease and certain cancers, including kidney, bladder, and prostate cancers.


Arsenic is a well-known poison that can occur in groundwater, pesticides, and seafood. Other possible exposures include inhalation of smoke from burning wood that has been treated with arsenic compounds. Exposure to arsenic may ultimately cause chronic kidney disease.

Aristolochic Acid

Aristolochic acid is found in the Aristolochia plant, a widespread plant that is native in various climates across the globe, including sixteen states in the US. While aristolochic acid has commonly been used in traditional medicine, research has shown it to be a toxin to the kidney and carcinogen.

Make an Appointment

At Durham Nephrology, our team is experienced in providing treatment and guidance to kidney patients. Our physicians are experts in diagnosing and treating chronic kidney disease or any other issues with the kidneys. If you have questions or concerns about your kidneys or any environmental factors that may contribute to kidney problems, call us at 919-477-3005 to talk to a staff member and make an appointment.


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