Mercury itself comes in a number of forms. In its pure natural state it is a liquid metal, which is very volatile. This is perfect for items like thermometers, switches and some light bulbs. This can be also found in coal, and is released into the atmosphere when burned. This accounts for over 40 percent of all domestic human-caused emissions within the United States. Mercury is also released into the environment through the burning of hazardous wastes, chlorine production, destruction of products containing mercury, and improper treatment and disposal of material that contains mercury.
Through whatever means mercury uses to find its way into the environment, it eventually settles within our water supply. Once deposited, certain micro-organisms can change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. This becomes the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans.
Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages. Research shows that most people's fish consumption does not cause a health concern. However, it has been demonstrated that high levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn. 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.
Symptoms of methylmercury poisoning:
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;
Another less common exposure to mercury that can be a concern is breathing mercury vapour. These exposures can occur when elemental mercury or products that contain elemental mercury break and release mercury to the air, particularly in warm or poorly-ventilated indoor spaces.
Symptoms of elemental mercury poisoning:
emotional changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness);
neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching);
disturbances in sensations;
changes in nerve responses;
performance deficits on tests of cognitive function.
To protect ourselves, and our children, from this poison we must be aware of the actions we take. Reduce your consumption of fish and shellfish, and conduct some research on which has higher mercury content. While important for a well-balanced diet, they should be consumed in moderation. This is especially important for children. For pregnant women, or those still nursing, omit all consumption. Use caution when handling material that contains mercury (like compact fluorescent lights or thermometers), and dispose or recycle material properly.
Though it is virtually impossible to negate the existence of mercury in our lives, and the world around us, we can affect our exposure to it. By realizing what products contain mercury, how to properly dispose of them, and they symptoms caused by over exposure we can better protect ourselves and loved ones, and work for a better lifestyle.