Mercury - Health Factors

Mercury & Human Health
Women who expect to become pregnant or are pregnant should not eat mercury-contaminated fish. Mercury affects brain and nervous system development in the fetus. Affected children show lowered intelligence, impaired hearing and poor coordination. Their verbal and motor skills may be delayed.
Mercury poisoning can cause severe neurological and kidney damage. Acute exposure can affect the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. For more information on health issues related to Mercury, see the links on this page to EPA's web page.

Products That Contain Mercury
Mercury metal has many uses. Because of its high density, it is used in barometers and manometers. With its high rate of thermal expansion that is fairly constant over a wide temperature range, mercury is used extensively in thermometers and thermostats. Mercury is important as an electrical contact for switches. Mercury conducts the charge in fluorescent lamps. Mercury-vapor lamps, which emit light rich in ultraviolet radiation, are used for street lighting, in water treatment plants as a disinfectant, and in tanning beds. Mercury is used as an electrode in the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide and in certain electric batteries.

Mercury compounds have many uses. Calomel (mercurous chloride, Hg2Cl2) is a standard in electrochemical measurements and in medicine as a purgative. Mercuric chloride (corrosive sublimate, HgCl2) is an insecticide, a rat poison, and a disinfectant. Mercuric oxide is used in skin ointments. Mercuric sulfate is a catalyst in organic chemistry. Vermilion, a red pigment, is mercuric sulfide; another crystalline form of the sulfide (also used as a pigment) is black. Mercury fulminate, Hg(CNO)2, is a detonator. Mercury forms many organic compounds. Mercurochrome (in 2% aqueous solution) is used in medicine as a topical antiseptic.

Most mercury pesticides have been withdrawn from the U.S. market, and many countries banned ocean dumping of mercury and other pollutants in 1972. Production of mercury-containing interior and exterior paints in the United States was phased out in 1991. Mercury, which has been used in medicines for hundreds of years, continues to be used in various folk remedies that deliver exposures. The use of mercury in dental amalgam for tooth fillings has stirred escalating controversy in recent years.



How to Clean up a Mercury Spill
- EPA Web Site
- Earth 911 Web Site

Calculate Your Mercury Exposure
- Got Mercury Web Site

US Department of Health and Human Services and the US EPA
All you need to know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Fact sheet that answers frequently asked questions about mercury

How Mercury Causes Brain Neuron Degeneration
Link to Video Clip

Fluorescent Lighting Research
- U of M Study Suggests Need for Safer Packaging, Storage, and Transportation of Fluorescent Lamps
- University of Minnesota - Safer Handling of Fluorescent Lamps Needed
- Broken Compact Fluorescent Lights Release Mercury Into the Air: Over 100 Times the EPA Limit
- Shining a light on hazards of fluorescent bulbs
- Do compact fluorescent bulbs reduce mercury pollution?


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