Mercury Hg

Mercury is commonly encountered in our environment that receives much public attention. While elemental mercury (Hg0) is relatively non-toxic, the ionized inorganic species (Hg2+) is toxic, and organic species such as methyl mercury (CH3Hg+) are highly toxic. Elemental mercury can be converted into ionized inorganic or organic mercury by microorganisms that are commonly found in bodies of water and digestive systems. The toxic methyl mercury species accumulates in predatory fish, perhaps the most likely source of mercury exposure. Unborn children are exposed to extremely high concentrations of methyl mercury in utero, relative to the mother's blood, via placental transfer. As a result, the FDA has advised that pregnant women avoid eating excessive tuna and other predatory fish that may contain high levels of methyl mercury. Limiting intake not only prevents acute exposures, but also minimizes the accumulation of toxic levels over time. Dental amalgams release small amounts of elemental mercury as well, particularly when installed, removed, or with gum chewing, yet the incidence of toxicity associated with dental amalgams is rare. Dentists and dental workers are at higher risk of exposure while working with the amalgams; hygiene guidelines have been proposed to minimize this occupational exposure. Although mercury exposure in vaccine preparations has been proposed as a contributing factor in the increase of the incidence of autism, this hypothesis has not been substantiated (48-50).

Acute exposure to toxic mercury forms can cause gastroenteritis and tubular nephritis, as well as severe and potentially irreversible damage to the central nervous system. Chronic exposure often manifests itself as a broad range of emotional disturbances, tremor, sensory impairment, tubular necrosis, and nephrotic syndrome. Whole blood or urine specimens are useful to assess mercury levels; the total body burden has a half-life of 30-60 days. Care must be taken to insure that mercury in specimens is not lost through volatilization or adherence to specimen containers (51,52).

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