Common sources and symptoms
of mercury exposure
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SPRINGFIELD -- Health
problems caused by mercury depend on how much has entered your body,
how it entered your body, how long you have been exposed to it, and
how your body responds to the mercury. People are at risk when they
consume mercury-contaminated fish and when they are exposed to
Elemental (metallic) mercury and its
compounds are toxic, and exposure to excessive levels can
permanently damage or fatally injure the brain and kidneys.
Elemental mercury can also be absorbed through the skin and cause
allergic reactions. Ingestion of inorganic mercury compounds can
cause severe renal and gastrointestinal toxicity. Organic compounds
of mercury, such as methylmercury, are considered the most toxic
forms of the element. Exposures to very small amounts of these
compounds can result in devastating neurological damage and death.
For fetuses, infants and children, the
primary health effects of mercury are on neurological development.
Even low levels of mercury exposure, such as result from mother's
consumption methylmercury in dietary sources, can adversely affect
the brain and nervous system. Effects on memory, attention, language
and other skills have been found in children exposed to moderate
levels in the womb.
of mercury poisoning:
- Impairment of the peripheral
- Disturbances in sensations --
"pins and needles" feelings, numbness -- usually in the hands feet
and sometimes around the mouth
- Lack of coordination of
movements, such as writing
- Impairment of speech, hearing,
- Muscle weakness
- Skin rashes
- Mood swing
- Memory loss
- Mental disturbance
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All mercury spills, regardless of
quantity, should be treated seriously. Metallic mercury slowly
evaporates when exposed to the air. The air in a room can reach
contamination levels just from the mercury in a broken thermometer.
Mercury in school labs should be handled with care and stored safely
Mercury pollution is released into the
air from the burning of fossil fuels. It falls down directly onto
waterways or is deposited on land, where it can be washed into the
water. Bacteria in the water cause chemical changes that transform
mercury into methylmercury, a highly toxic form.
Methylmercury accumulates in fish, with
larger fish generally accumulating higher levels of methylmercury.
If you are pregnant or could become pregnant, are nursing a baby, or
if you are feeding a young child, you should limit consumption of
freshwater fish caught by family and friends to one meal per week.
For adults one meal is 6 ounces of cooked fish or 8 ounces uncooked
fish; for a young child one meal is 2 ounces cooked fish or 3 ounces
uncooked fish. Many states collect data on mercury levels in fish
from local waters and issue fish consumption advisories.
information on freshwater fish consumption advisories across the
country, go to http://map1.epa.gov/.
Environmental Protection Agency]