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Mercury Definition and Exposure

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Mercury, which is also known as metallic mercury or quicksilver can be found in two states, as a liquid in a normal 25°C room temp. or as a vapor. When mercury is found at its vapor state it tends to be more hazardous than when it found in the liquid state. Mercury will form Hg+ and Hg+2 salts once bound with other elements such as oxygen and chlorine.

Mercury occur naturally as a vapor and it can be found on the crust of the earth once degassing it, can also be formed from eruptions of some volcanoes and from the evaporation of the water of the oceans. It can also be produced on combustion on coal and smelting of certain metals. Mercury is also found at very low concentrations in air, food and water.

Exposure to mercury can occur in 3 ways; The first one is dietary exposure, mainly through fish consumption, a person will be exposed to high amount of organic mercury (specifically methylmercury), while inorganic mercury will be found in in other food.

Occupational exposure, which is the second way of exposure, usually occur to workers who work in a chloralkali industry as they inhale the vapor of the mercury while they are working. It may also occur during some instrument manufacture, during gold extraction, and also dentists are exposed to it when they are preparing mercury amalgams.

The third way of exposure is accidental exposure, its due to broken containers and barometers that contain mercury, also from repetitive exposure to amalgam when visiting the dentist.

Symptoms can vary according to the form of mercury; at high concentration mercury vapor once inhaled will cause bronchitis, Inorganic mercury (which can be found in tattoo inks) will cause damage to renal tubules in the kidney, while Methylmercury tend to be neurotoxic, all of which may progress leading to coma and finally death.

Symptoms of mercury vapor inhalation may vary in case of short- or long-term exposure. In case of short-term exposure symptoms can be as cough, pain in the chest, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, increase BP, some eye problems and they may feel in their mouth some kind of metallic taste. In case of long-term exposure, anorexia, anxiety, insomnia, tremors and loss of appetite.

One of the most important mechanisms of toxicity that produces cell death / injury inside the cell is the high binding affinity of -SH protein group. Other mechanisms include increase oxidative stress, decreased glutathione level and mitochondrial damage.

Both urine and blood samples are used to test if someone got exposed to mercury with urine being the most preferable one in case of testing for elemental mercury. Most preferable urine samples should be taken once in the morning after waking up from sleep or to be collected on a period of 24 hours. Blood samples can be taken after long period (up to 3 days) for testing of high mercury levels exposure.

So, what to do if someone got exposed to mercury? The person should be removed from the area of exposure immediately then once he get admitted to the hospital he will get an intensive care by the doctor and nurses in addition to an chelation therapy in order to try to get the mercury out of his body.

A pregnant woman, an infant and a young child are the most 3 groups that may got serious problems after inhaling mercury vapor. Mercury once inhaled by a pregnant woman, it can pass her body and reach to the fetus, it may also pass to an infant through the milk of his / her nursing mum. In the case of a young child, if mercury was spilled on the floor or on a carpet and the child played in that infected area he / she may breathe that mercury vapor, and since they have smaller lungs they tend to breathe more that the adults and hence breathe more mercury vapor than the adults.

All in all, mercury occur naturally on earth and it have a lot of uses that may be useful to everyone, but at the same time cation should be taken when dealing with it since it may cause some serios problems if some one got exposed to it. 

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