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Mercury Poisoning

December 20, 2012

Mercury is an element in the earth’s crust. Humans cannot create or destroy mercury. Pure mercury is a liquid metal, sometimes referred to as quicksilver that volatizes readily. It has traditionally been used to make products like thermometers, switches, and some light bulbs.

When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States, accounting for over 40 percent of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions.

Mercury in the air eventually settles into water or onto land where it can be washed into water. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans. Methylmercury builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others. The levels of methylmercury in fish and shellfish depend on what they eat, how long they live and how high Amalgam Fillingsthey are in the food chain.

Mercury is also contained in some of the products we use, which may be found in your home, at the dentist, and at schools.

Symptoms elemental mercury poisoning include these:

– tremors;
– emotional changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness);
– insomnia;
– neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching);
– headaches;
– disturbances in sensations;
– changes in nerve responses;
– performance deficits on tests of cognitive function.

At higher exposures there may be kidney effects, respiratory failure and death.

Symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include

– impairment of the peripheral vision;
– disturbances in sensations (“pins and needles” feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth);
– lack of coordination of movements;
– impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and
– muscle weakness.

The factors that determine how severe the health effects are from mercury exposure include:

– the chemical form of mercury;
– the dose;
– the age of the person exposed (the fetus is the most susceptible);
– the duration of exposure;
– the route of exposure — inhalation, ingestion, dermal contact, etc.; and
– the health of the person exposed.

People concerned about their exposure to (methyl)mercury should consult their physician.

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