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Chemical Toxicity
Chemical toxicity of Mercury

Occurence, exposure and health effects.

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Mercury Poisoning

All information referenced from "Mercury Free", by Dr. James Hardy.


These symptoms include:
~ Arthritis-like joint pain
~ Asthma
~ Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis { ALS - "Lou Gehrig's Disease" }
~ Antibiotic Resistance
~ Abnormal Hunger
~ Alzheimer's Disease
~ Anorexia Nervosa
~ Asthma
~ Birth Defects
~ Cerebral Palsy
~ Chronic Fatigue
~ Crohn's Disease
~ Diabetes Insipidus-like symptoms
~ Hypersensitivity] {also -mercury hypersensitivity }
~ Graves Disease-like symptoms
~ Hearing disturbances
~ Heart Attacks
~ Hypoglycemia
~ Immune system imbalances
~ Migraine Headaches
~ MS {multiple sclerosis}-like symptoms
~ Oral Diseases
~ Tremors
~ Vision Disturbances


Exposure to mercury occurs from breathing contaminated air, ingesting contaminated water and food, and having dental and medical treatments. Mercury, at high levels, may damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. This chemical has been found in at least 714 of 1,467 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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.
Mercury combines with other elements, such as chlorine, sulfur, or oxygen, to form inorganic mercury compounds or "salts," which are usually white powders or crystals.
Mercury also combines with carbon to make organic mercury compounds.
The most common one, methylmercury, is produced mainly by small organisms in the water and soil.
More mercury in the environment can increase the levels of methylmercury that these small organisms make.
Metallic mercury is used to produce chlorine gas and caustic soda and also used in thermometers, dental fillings, and batteries.
Mercury salts are used in skin-lightening creams and as antiseptic creams and ointments.


Inorganic mercury (metallic mercury and inorganic mercury compounds) enters the air from mining ore deposits, burning coal and waste, and from manufacturing plants.
It enters the water or soil from natural deposits, disposal of wastes, and volcanic activity..
Methylmercury may be formed in water and soil by small organisms called bacteria.
Methylmercury builds up in the tissues of fish. Larger and older fish tend to have the highest levels of mercury.


Eating fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury.
Breathing vapors in air from spills, incinerators, and industries that burn mercury-containing fuels.
Release of mercury from dental work and medical treatments.
Breathing contaminated workplace air or skin contact during use in the workplace (dental, health services, chemical, and other industries that use mercury).
Practicing rituals that include mercury.

Health Effects

The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.
Methylmercury and metal vapors are more harmful than other forms, because more mercury in these forms reaches the brain.
Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus.
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 effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation.

There are inadequate human cancer data available for all forms of mercury.
Mercuric chloride has caused increases in several types of tumors in rats and mice, while methylmercury increased kidney tumors in male mice.
The EPA has determined that mercuric chloride and methyl mercury are possible human carcinogens.
Effect on children
Very young children are more sensitive to mercury than adults.
Mercury in the mother's body passes to the fetus and can pass to a nursing infant through breast milk.
However, the benefits of breast feeding may be greater than the possible adverse effects of mercury in breast milk.
Mercury's harmful effects that may be passed from the mother to the developing fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, and incoordination, blindness, seizures, and an inability to speak. Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems and kidney damage.
Reduce the risk of exposure to mercury
Carefully handle and dispose of products that contain mercury, such as thermometers or fluorescent light bulbs.
Do not vacuum up spilled mercury, because it will vaporize and increase exposure.
If a large amount of mercury has been spilled, contact your health department.
Teach children not to play with shiny, silver liquids.
Properly dispose of older medicines that contain mercury.
Keep all mercury-containing medicines away from children.
Pregnant women and children should keep away from rooms where liquid mercury has been used.
Learn about wildlife and fish advisories in your area from your public health or natural resources department.

Exposure Tests

Tests are available to measure mercury levels in the body.
Blood or urine samples are used to test for exposure to metallic mercury and to inorganic forms of mercury.
Mercury in whole blood or in scalp hair is measured to determine exposure to methylmercury.
Your doctor can take samples and send them to a testing laboratory.

The EPA has set a limit of 2 parts of mercury per billion parts of drinking water (2 ppb).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set a maximum permissible level of 1 part of methylmercury in a million parts of seafood (1 ppm).
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set limits of 0.1 milligram of organic mercury per cubic meter of workplace air (0.1 mg/m) and 0.05 mg/m of metallic mercury vapor for 8-hour shifts and 40-hour work weeks.

Source of Information
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1999. Toxicological profile for mercury. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.

Animal testing is sometimes necessary to find out how toxic substances might harm people and how to treat people who have been exposed. Laws today protect the welfare of research animals and scientists must follow strict guidelines.