Elemental Mercury in Water, Air, and Consumer Products

Mercury is a natural substance that can be found in the environment. At room temperature, metallic mercury is a shiny, silver-white liquid. If uncontained, it can evaporate into a colorless, odorless vapor. Higher temperatures can cause faster evaporation.

For many years, this type of mercury was used in common products—such as thermometers, switches, batteries, jewelry, cosmetics, and even dental fillings. Although use has decreased somewhat, many household and industrial items still contain mercury.

Health Effects of exposure to Mercury

Breathing mercury vapor may affect the lungs, kidneys, brain, and nervous system. Signs and symptoms of brief exposure may include coughing, difficulty breathing, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and a metallic taste in the mouth.

Chronic or longer-term exposure can result in shakiness, loss of appetite and weight loss, irritability, headache, and short-term memory loss.

The health effects of mercury exposure depend on several factors, mainly the amount of spilled mercury and the length of exposure. Also, a person’s general health status, age, sex, family history, diet, lifestyle, and exposure to other chemicals may influence whether the mercury causes an ill effect. Young children and fetuses are especially sensitive to mercury due to their developing organs.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the Environmental Protection Agency, mercury is not known to cause cancer in humans.

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