Ah Yes, Mercury! One of the most feared elements on the face of the planet yet very commonly used in our modern-day to day items. Varying from fluorescent lamps, thermometers, batteries and many more, mercury is a commonly used chemical that despite its surprisingly feared reputation. Mercury, otherwise known as Quicksilver or Hydrargyrum can be described as a heavy and silver-coloured liquid metal with the Symbol Hg on the periodic table. Unlike other metals, mercury is a very poor conductor of heat but is an excellent conductor of electricity. However, despite the versatility of this metal, there’s a reason for all the fear surrounding it and that primarily has to do with its extreme levels of toxicity. Both to humans and the environment alike.
Mercury exists throughout different forms in our day and age, from elemental(metal) and inorganic(man-made causes) as well as organic(through a person’s diet). Although the toxicity levels vary from form to form, mercury remains a very toxic element and even at low exposure rates can still have detrimental impacts on human health. The inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested. Neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure to different mercury compounds. Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction.
Mercury is introduced into our environment through 3 primary ways. First, mercury is emitted into the air naturally from volcanoes, the weathering of rocks, forest fires, and soils. Second, mercury is emitted into the air from the burning of fossil fuels and municipal or medical waste. Lastly, mercury can be re-introduced into the environment through natural processes such as the evaporation of ocean water. Statistic from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 National Emissions Inventory report, power plants that burn coal to create electricity are the largest source of emissions; they account for about 42% of all manmade mercury emissions. Mercury is never removed from the environment; it is just moved to other locations and eventually
buried under soils and sediments. Eventually, this mercury makes its way to the water stream and gets turned into methylmercury, eventually getting absorbed by fish. This later gets moved up into the food chain as predators consume these mercury-filled fish and get harmed by them. Mercury concentrations are high enough in wildlife that consumes fish to cause adverse behavioural, physiological, and reproductive effects, including subtle visual, cognitive, and neurobehavioral deficits in small mammals and birds.
In conclusion, Despite the versatility of mercury as shown in the day-to-day products we use that contain this element, mercury remains a very toxic substance that can lead to long-term health damage in the case of humans even at low exposure rates and can also destroy ecosystems alike. Mercury is an element that no person should handle without adequate protection and should be handled with the utmost care.
Mercury Impacts to the Environment, webcam.srs.fs.fed.us/impacts/mercury/index.shtml.
“Mercury (Element).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 June 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_(element).