What is mercury?

Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring metal that is found in air, water and soil. It is found in three different forms: metallic or elemental mercury, organic mercury, and inorganic mercury. This newsletter will focus on metallic mercury, a silvery liquid that forms a vapor and evaporates when it comes into contact with air.

How do you get exposed to mercury?
Mercury primarily enters the environment through human activity. Much of this is from coal-burning power plants but also in products containing mercury that are broken or disposed of improperly. The main exposure routes are through inhalation of vapors in the air from spills, especially in warm or poorly ventilated indoor spaces, or through ingestion of contaminated fish.

What are the health effects from mercury exposure?
The health effects of mercury exposure depend on the amount and length of exposure. Short term exposure to high levels of mercury may cause lung damage, nausea, vomiting, increased blood pressure or heart rate. Long term exposure can permanently damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetus. Exposure to lower amounts can go unnoticed and undetected. but can have subtle effects on behavior or on learning abilities of children exposed in utero. Symptoms include headache, loss of appetite, shaky hands, and memory loss. 

Products that May Contain Mercury

  • Thermometers
  • Thermostats
  • Automotive headlamps
  • Gauges (blood pressure)
  • Electrical switches and relays For detailed information refer to:
  • Some athletic shoes
  • Vintage toys & games
  • Fluorescent bulbs & other mercury
  • Vapor bulbs
  • Certain rubber floors
  • Dental fillings/amalgam

Other Potential Exposures to Mercury 

Fish Consumption - Certain species of fish accumulate methylmercury making these fish unsafe to eat, especially for pregnant women and children. For specific guidelines, refer to the Fish Consumption Advisory.

Azogue (mercuro) - Sometimes used in Caribbean-Latino communities for spiritual practices, in antiseptics, and in creams to lighten the skin.