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Zinc in the Environment

Zinc is essential for all life. It plays a specific role in various biological reactions of all living organisms – humans, animals, plants and the smallest microorganisms.

Organisms take up the essential elements they need from their environment – that means directly from air, water, soil and from food. When their cellular requirements for these elements are satisfied, growth and development are optimal. When uptake is too low, deficiency occurs and adverse effects can be observed. On the other side, uptake of too much of an essential element can lead to toxicity. Between these two extremes, each organism has an optimal concentration range for each essential element within which it can regulate its internal zinc level so that its metabolic requirements are satisfied.

The amount of zinc available varies significantly geographically and seasonally, and zinc deficiency is a widespread problem. It is estimated that zinc deficiency affects one-third of the world’s population. In 2008, the Copenhagen Consensus, a group of internationally acclaimed economists, including five Nobel Laureates, concluded that combating the world’s malnutrition problem through the provision of vitamin A and zinc was ranked the highest among the various cost-effective solutions to the world’s pressing problems. WHO contributes 800,000 deaths worldwide each year to zinc deficiency and over 28 million healthy life years lost. Zinc deficiency is responsible for approximately 16% of lower respiratory tract infections, 18% of malaria and 10% of diarrheal disease. Zinc deficiency is largely related to inadequate intake or absorption of zinc from the diet, and zinc supplementation and fortification both prove to be very cost-effective interventions in all regions of the world.

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Zinc deficiency is agricultural soils and crops is also a common phenomenon and constitutes a major problem in many parts of the world, as crop yields are reduced and the quality of crops is often impaired. Relatively small amounts of zinc compounds can cure deficiency and last for several years before they need to be repeated.

Environmental Regulations
Zinc is essential for humans and the environment. It has a number of important uses and enhances the value of life. The Zinc Industry is committed to the principles of sustainable development. It promotes a better understanding of the role and impact of zinc on the environment and zinc’s contribution to human health and ecosystems, based on sound science. As part of this process, the International Zinc Association monitors global regulatory challenges and coordinates Industry responses to environmental developments and regulations.