Mercury Poisoning

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Mercury poisoning facts*

*Mercury poisoning facts by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

  • Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil. A highly toxic form (methylmercury) builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans.
  • Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. High levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.
  • Symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include impairment of peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations ("pins and needles" feelings); lack of coordination; impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness.
  • Elemental (metallic) mercury primarily causes health effects when it is breathed as a vapor where it can be absorbed through the lungs. Symptoms include tremors, emotional changes, insomnia, weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching, headaches, disturbances in sensations, changes in nerve responses, and performance deficits on tests of cognitive function. Higher exposures may result in kidney effects, respiratory failure and death.
  • Consult your doctor if you believe you have been exposed to mercury.
  • Recycling of mercury-containing products is one of the best ways to help prevent mercury releases to the environment by keeping these products out of landfills and incinerators.

Mercury introduction

Mercury is contained in some of the fish we eat, whether caught in local lakes and streams or bought in a grocery store. Mercury is also contained in some of the products we use, which may be found in your home, at the dentist, and at schools. This article provides links to information about sources of mercury exposure, potential health effects, fish that may contain mercury, consumer products that contain mercury, and ways to reduce your exposure to mercury.

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