Term Mercury

Elemental symbol: Hg

Purpose/ Definition Mercury is a heavy metal, which occurs as a liquid.

Light Bulbs: “CFLs produce light when the mercury molecules are excited by electricity running between two electrodes in the base of the bulb. The mercury emits ultraviolet light, which in turn excites the tube’s phosphor coating, leading it to emit visible light.” source: Popular Mechanics

Vaccines and Cosmetics: Mercury serves as a preservative in some flu shots and some some eye cosmetics (up to 65 ppm in cosmetics), including mascara, eye liner, and eye drops. (Mercury in cosmetics is banned in Minnesota).

Coal: Mercury naturally occurs in coal and is released into the atmosphere when coal is burned.

Occurrence  Mercury in the atmosphere falls back to the Earth’s surface in raindrops and snow. “Bacteria then convert mercury into the potent–and persistent–brain poison, methylmercury. Concentrating as it moves through the food chain, methylmercury can magnify its powers many times in aquatic systems, where food chains are long.” source: Steingraber, Sandra. 2011. Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. USA: Da Capo Press.
Exposure The number one route of human exposure to mercury is eating fish–especially large predatory fish–and seafood. Mercury is stored in muscle, not fat. So it cannot be trimmed off the fish. The Michigan Department of Community Health recommends not eating Shark, Swordfish, Tilefish, King Mackerel. MDCH provides advisories for amounts deemed safe for consumption for other store-bought and freshly caught fish:
Health Effects Neurotoxin

Children:“Methylmercury exposure in the womb…can adversely affect a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb…the developing nervous system of the fetus may be more vulnerable to methylmercury than is the adult nervous system.”

Adults: “…symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include; impairment of the peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations (“pins and needles” feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth); lack of coordination of movements; impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness.”

source: U.S. EPA

LMG Article of Interest CFLs 101, Spring 2008

Liquid Silver, August 2003


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