How does mercury kill you

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water, and soil. Even in small amounts, exposure to such an element may cause serious health problems. It may also be a threat to child development in utero as well as early in life. Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. 

However it’s effects have been ignored even though at certain levels it may cause certain death. We find that people are commonly exposed to methylmercury. This is an organic compound which they are in contact with when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound.

About Mercury

Mercury has been and is still considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern. Mercury itself does not kill, but the effects it has on the human body and the systems is what kills a person. Mercury affects the neurological system, digestive system as well as the respiratory system which may all lead to serious health issues and at times sudden death depending on the level of intake. 

Methylmercury vs Ethylmercury

Methylmercury is very different to Ethylmercury in that  Ethylmercury is used as a preservative in some vaccines and does not pose a health risk to humans. 

Mercury exists in various forms. These forms of mercury differ in their degree of toxicity and in their effects.

There is the elemental or metallic form, the inorganic to which people may be exposed through their occupations and organic mercury such as methylmercury, to which people may be exposed through their diet. 

Occurrence

Human activity is the main cause of mercury releases, particularly coal-fired power stations, residential coal burning for heating and cooking, industrial processes, waste incinerators and as a result of mining for mercury, gold and other metals.

Mercury occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. It is released into the environment from volcanic activity, weathering of rocks and as a result of human activity. 

Once in the environment, mercury can be transformed by bacteria into methylmercury. Methylmercury then bioaccumulates in fish and shellfish. 

Health effects of mercury exposure

The inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. Elemental and methylmercury are toxic to the central and peripheral nervous systems. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested.

Mild, subclinical signs of central nervous system toxicity can be seen in workers exposed to an elemental mercury level in the air. Neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure of different mercury compounds. 

Conclusion 

Mercury has dire effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems. However depending on the level of toxicity of the form, they also differ on their effects on the lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. Certain levels may however result in death due to organ failure. 

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