Mercury, also known as quicksilver with the chemical label Hg, is one of only four metals that stay liquid at room temperature and is easily absorbed through the skin. Used for centuries in the medical industry, is has now become known as an environmental hazard and raised concerns about its use in industrial settings. It is a neuro-toxin that can severely damage the human nervous system and brain.
Together with lead, mercury causes thousands of poisonings a year, almost all of which come from broken thermometers and simple household items such as broken fluorescent light bulbs and certain latex paints. Many fungicides and pesticides also contain the element. There are several drugs and common vaccines that contain small amounts of it as an essential ingredient. It is also present in electrical switches, certain art supplies, blood pressure cuffs, and dental amalgams. If you’re interested in finding out more about them, you can visit the United States Food and Drug Administration Website for a full list.
Mercury poisoning is less prevalent than it was in those bad old days, but can still be a concern. The disease was commonly seen in hat-makers in the 18th century, since a Hg compound was widely used in making felt. Unaware of the danger of skin absorption of this chemical, hatters handled the felt, and over a period of time, went insane from the poisoning. This gave rise to the phrase “mad as a hatter,” which in turn led to Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter character. The most common source of high levels of it today is consumption of mercury-contaminated fish.
The presence of mercury (CAS number is 7439-97-6) in the water causes a double problem, since it eventually builds up in fish that are eventually consumed by people. As a result, many types of fish now contain levels of Hg dangerous enough to be considered a serious hazard. In fact, methylmercury is now one of the main causes of the poisoning in humans. The element is released into the environment by several processes, including coal burning and the disposal of hazardous wastes.
The human body can not, unaided, process and remove it from the brain and nervous system. Therefore, in cases of its poisoning, radical therapies are required to eliminate the contaminant. Chelation therapy is the therapy currently used, in which chelating agents are introduced. Chelating agents can form bonds with the poisonous heavy metals, and then the compound created can be eliminated. In addition, it is dangerous to humans because it’s still being used in many aspects of daily life. By reducing it presence, it may be possible to also reduce its effects.