HAZARD: Exposure to mercury occurs from breathing contaminated air, ingesting contaminated water and food, and having dental and medical treatments. At high levels, mercury may damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetuses.
What is mercury?
Mercury is a naturally occurring metal which has several forms. The metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas.
How can mercury affect health?
The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms. Methylmercury and metallic mercury vapors are more harmful than others because more mercury in these forms reaches the brain. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.
Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors may cause lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes and eye irritation.
How does mercury affect children?
Very young children are more sensitive than adults. Mercury in the mother’s body passes to the fetus and may accumulate. It can also can pass to a nursing infant through breast milk.
Effects that may be passed from the mother to the fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, uncoordination, blindness, seizures and inability to speak.
Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems with their nervous and digestive systems and kidney damage.
Is there a test to show whether someone has been exposed?
Blood or urine samples are used to test for exposure to metallic mercury and to inorganic forms. Mercury in whole blood or scalp hair is measured to determine exposure to methylmercury.
Vapor pressure for mercury is 77 degrees (25C)
Although the vapor pressure of elemental mercury is low, at 25 degrees C, an atmosphere that is fully saturated with mercury vapor contains approximately 18 mg. The levels attainable in indoor airs at room temperature can therefore greatly exceed safe levels and result in poisoning.
n For more information, call the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Information Center at 1-888-422-8737.
– Source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry