Toxicity of mercury inhalation

Author(s): Ronald Bartzatt

Mercury is a silver-white volatile liquidmetal at roomtemperature. In its free metallic state, mercury is most poisonous as a vapor. All mercury compounds are poisonous to various extents, with organic mercury compounds much more poisonous than inorganic compounds. The accumulation of mercury in the body causes brain damage and affects the nervous system. Mercury has a high affinity for sulfur and thus interferes with physiological sulfur containing enzymes. Mercury poisoning has been associated with acrodynia, Minamata disease, and Hunter-Russell syndrome. Exposure to mercury fumes has notably been associated with Mad hatter disease, a vocational hazard of hat making, which resulted in vision and speech impairment, hallucinations, tremors, and lack of coordination. Mercury vapors are readily absorbed and spread quickly throughout the body, including the central nervous system and placenta. Inhalation of high concentrations of mercury vapor will lead to symptoms up to a few hours later that include: chills, fever, cough, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. For children, for chronic or acute exposure ofmercury can enable adverse effects during any period of development. In an ideal scenario there is absolutely no mercury in a child’s body. Adverse health affects can be a result ofmercury exposure fromworkplace or residential habitat. Studies of occupational mercury vapor exposure produces long term effects on psychomotor function, increased depression, increased anxiety, and affects on the information processing of nervous system. Mercury inhalation will induce pneumonitis.When broken indoors, light bulbs containingmercury can emit sufficient vapor to present health concerns with multiple bulbs causing even a greater concern. Accordingly, the breakage of larger and numerous bulbs will increase the danger to health. The central nervous systemis considered to be the most sensitive of targets frommercury vapor incursion.

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