Mercury is an element that is found in water, air and soil. It is a naturally occurring element and exists in several forms: elemental mercury and organic as well as inorganic mercury compounds.
Elemental mercury is used in fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers and some electrical switches. Exposed elemental mercury evaporates into an odorless, invisible toxic vapor.
Mercury can affect a person’s health as well as the ecology. You do not want to expose yourself to high levels of mercury as it can harm the brain, kidneys, heart and lungs as well as the immune system for people of all ages.
Pregnant women should not consume a lot of fish as high levels of methyl mercury in the fish can cause harm to the developing nervous system in unborn babies. This may have an impact on cognitive thinking, attention, fine motor skills, memory, language and visual spatial skills.
You want to avoid any place or situation where you may be exposed to elemental mercury. Exposure is likely to occur when it is spilled or when products that contain this element break and then expose the mercury to the air.
Occasionally you will see on the nightly news where a school had to be evacuated due to breakage of thermometers and the spilling of mercury. Elemental mercury causes significant health effects when a person breathes in the vapor and it is absorbed through the lungs. Mercury poisoning symptoms include: tremors, mood swings, nervousness, insomnia, neuromuscular changes such as muscle atrophy, weakness and twitching, disturbances in sensations, poor performance on tests of cognitive function, emotional changes, headaches and changes in nerve response.
Other mercury poisoning symptons include the following: peripheral vision impairment, “pins and needles” feeling usually felt in the feet, hands and around the mouth, and impairment of hearing, speech and walking. At even higher exposures the kidneys may be affected, there may be respiratory failure and even death. People who are concerned that they have been exposed to elemental mercury should definitely consult their doctor.
For a complete explanation of what mercury poisoning does to the brain take time to watch the video at the bottom of this page. The University of Calgary has done extensive research on the effects of mercury on the brain.
There are certain organic and inorganic mercury compounds that you also do not want to risk prolonged exposure to. These compounds are generally ingested through the gastrointestinal tract and may affect other organs and systems via this route.
If you have been exposed to high levels of inorganic mercury, you may experience some of the following mercury poisoning symptoms: dermatitis and skin rashes, memory loss, muscle weakness, mood swings, and mental disturbances.
Besides affecting people, there can also be ecological effects of mercury. Mammals and birds that eat fish containing methyl mercury are more likely to suffer exposure from mercury poisoning than are other animals in water ecosystems.
Predators that feed on fish-eating animals may also run the risk of being highly exposed to mercury. The harmful effects on these animals may include reduced reproduction, abnormal behavior, slower growth and development and even death.
You would not think that an element such as mercury could cause so much trouble! In our world today, we want to do whatever we can to avoid prolonged exposure to this element. We certainly do not want to suffer the consequences of mercury poisoning.