Mercury can be found in air, water and freshwater fish. Can harm the nervous system.
What is mercury?
Mercury is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment. It comes in several odorless forms. It can be a shiny, silver-white liquid, or a tin-white solid. If it is heated, it becomes a colorless gas. The chemical symbol for mercury is Hg. How might I be exposed to mercury?
Mercury is used in some thermometers, barometers, vapor and fluorescent lamps, mirror coatings, dental fillings, batteries, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural chemicals. Mercury salts are sometimes used in skin-lightening and antiseptic creams.
Mercury is used to make electrical equipment, wire, and switching devices; to extract gold and silver from ores; and to produce chlorine gas and caustic soda, a liquid chemical. Mercury compounds were once used in latex paints, but were banned from that use in 1990.
You can be exposed to mercury by eating fish or shellfish contaminated with mercury, or having skin contact with it. How can mercury affect my health?
You can be exposed to mercury by breathing contaminated air at work, or by breathing contaminated air from spills, incinerators, and industries that burn fuels that contain mercury.
Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause mercury poisoning, which can cause death or permanently damage the brain and kidneys. This brain damage can cause tremors, hallucinations, psychosis, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, loss of appetite and weight, and irritability.
If you are pregnant, repeated exposure to mercury may increase the risk of damage to the fetus, or cause miscarriage.
Exposure to high levels of mercury vapor can damage kidneys. It can also irritate lungs and cause depression, inflammation of the gums and mouth, coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Repeated low exposure may cause skin allergies.
Short-term exposure to high levels of mercury vapors can cause lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in heart rate or blood pressure, skin rashes, and irritation or cloudiness of the eyes.
If you think you have been exposed to mercury, contact your health care professional.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Mercury Compounds. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Mercury home page (Environmental Protection Agency)
Mercury in Buildings (Purdue University)
Mercury in Medical Facilities (Purdue University)
Mercury. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Mercury. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Last Updated: November 06, 2008