Mercury is a naturally occurring metal found in the Earth’s crust. At high doses, mercury is known to cause adverse human health effects. Over the past several years, EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) has focused on mercury exposures because of its potential to cause adverse human health and environmental effects, and because of its persistence and widespread distribution in the environment.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), mercury exposure occurs from breathing contaminated air, ingesting contaminated water or food, and from certain dental and medical treatments. Inorganic mercury enters the air from a variety of sources, including mining ore deposits, burning coal or waste, and from certain manufacturing processes.
Keywords: air, soil, water, food, health
The following are general facts about metallic mercury and its risks, as well as information about how people can protect themselves from exposure and resulting health effects.
A Warning About Continuing Patterns of Metallic Mercury Exposure
Metallic mercury is a hazardous chemical that can cause serious health problems. Children (especially very young children) and fetuses are most vulnerable. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), part of the U.S. Public Health Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are jointly issuing an alert to the general public. There is a continuing pattern of metallic mercury exposure in children and teenagers and in persons using certain folk medicines or participating in certain ethnic or religious practices.
It is important for the general public to understand that either short-term or long-term exposures to metallic mercury can lead to serious health problems. Human exposure to metallic mercury occurs primarily from breathing contaminated air. Other forms of mercury can be absorbed by drinking contaminated water, eating food (usually fish containing mercury), and from skin contact. At high levels, metallic mercury can cause effects on the nervous system and the developing fetus. Other forms of mercury can damage other organs. Even at low levels, metallic mercury can cause health problems. Metallic mercury exposure can cause harm before symptoms arise. Once released into the environment, mercury is very hard to clear up.