|Mercury - Health
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
Most mercury pesticides have been withdrawn from the U.S. market, and many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.