I didn’t read much about it in the local or state news but last December, a Mercury jug containing 5 kg (11 pounds) of the toxic metal was spilled in an Iowa bar.
If that isn’t bad enough, the mercury was gathered up and put in the basement of a rental house where kids found it and played with it in the sandbox.
Where does mercury come from? Why is it toxic and how bad is it?
Here are some facts about mercury:
- Mercury is an element, meaning it can’t be broken into anything smaller. You can’t get rid of it by burning it up, for example.
- In fact, you do not want to burn mercury. It is a metal but with very weak bonds between atoms. It has a low vapor pressure and heating it makes it into a gas. This gas is very toxic. It is easily absorbed into the lungs. It moves to the brain where it causes central nervous system poisoning. Mercury is toxic via all routes: ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact.
- Mercury poisons by sticking to the sulfur in enzymes, causing them to unravel. What does this do? It harms many different enzymes–it interferes with ones that build your skeleton, it inhibits food digestion, it ruins nerve connections, and it causes hydrogen peroxide to build up in your blood.
- Mercury can get into the air from burning coal and oil. Forty two percent of mercury in our air comes from coal burning. Since mercury is heavy and doesn’t change into anything else, this can be breathed in, and get into our water and soil.
- Another source of mercury is gold mining and processing, especially in small scale operations.Peru is known for a high number of these. They rely on using a mercury amalgam to extract the gold.
- Mercury is a dense metallic liquid. It was once known as quicksilver. The word mercurial means flighty or fast.
- It’s about 14 x more dense than water, meaning that a gallon of mercury would weigh 113 pounds.
- It has the symbol Hg meaning “liquid silver” or “hydroargyrum”.
- Mercury is found as the ore cinnabar, chemical name mercury (II) sulfide, HgS. Most of mercury used today comes from mines in Spain or Italy.
- It is commonly used in electrical switches and was once frequently used in thermometers and in dental fillings known as amalgams. An amalgam is a combination of mercury and other metals. It’s tough and easy to squeeze into small places. These are thought to be safe in adults and mercury not detected in breast milk of mothers who have mercury fillings.
- Dental crowns do not contain mercury.
- Mercury pollution has caused Minamata disease, a birth defect harming the skeleton and a pollution related disease. Click here for more about the people who were affected.
- Many people think of the Mad Hatter when they think of mercury poisoning. Mercury was used in felt processing and hat-making from the 17th century up until 1941.
- Mercury was used to treat syphilis up through the early 1900s.
- A mercury salt with fluorescein, mercurochrome, is still used as an antiseptic in some places.
- Mercury can exist in several forms: elemental (as found in the Iowa bar) , inorganic (cinnabar), and organic (the most toxic).
- Mercury is water soluble. It builds up in fish and seafood–the larger the animal, the more mercury. This diagram shows that the elemental mercury becomes organic mercury and bioaccumulates in the food chain.
- Fish contains more mercury than vaccines.
- Mercury is in some vaccines in a small amount. Consider the alternative which is getting the flu.
- Mercury is heavy and exists in the depths of the Earth. Besides mining and coal burning, volcanos release tons of vaporized mercury into the air, especially Pacific volcanos.
- Mercury poisoning continues today. “Analysis of hair samples from 1044 women of reproductive age in 37 locations across 25 countries on 6 continents revealed that 42% of women sampled had mercury levels over the US EPA limit level of 1 ppm, above which brain damage, IQ loss, and kidney damage may occur. Additionally, 53% of the global sample exceeded the level 0.58 ppm of mercury, a level now associated with the onset of fetal neurological damage. Exposures were higher and more pervasive in communities near mercury gold mining, in the Pacific Islands, and in communities near industrial contamination.”
- New laws will weaken our restrictions on mercury emissions. We will be dooming people to nervous system, skeletal, and blood disorders and putting poison in our oceans. Thes laws are a “major weakening’ of mercury rules. Folks, that’s madness!
One thought on “Mercurial Madness”
Thanks for this! Mercury is something I’ve never wondered about; I didn’t even know quicksilver was mercury. (Sheesh!) Also, I didn’t realize they were using mercury in hat-making until 1941.
Now that I’ve read your article, I want to do more reading on it. Mercury sounds like a fascinating substance, in a way.