Here is what you should know about the dangers of mercury


HOUSTON – Officials decontaminated dozens of people as a precaution Sunday afternoon after a man spilled mercury in multiple places in west Houston.

While the risk to the public is extremely low, the health department notified all hospitals and healthcare providers to look for signs of mercury exposure.

The symptoms of acute mercury exposure can include headaches, eye and throat irritation, coughing and nausea.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, here is some of the basic information about Mercury.

What is mercury?

Mercury is a naturally-occurring chemical element found in rock in the earth’s crust, including in deposits of coal.

Where is mercury often found?

Mercury, in its elemental or metallic form, is liquid at room temperature and used in older thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and some electrical switches. At room temperature, exposed elemental mercury can evaporate to become an invisible, odorless toxic vapor. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas.

Emissions of both elemental or inorganic mercury can occur from coal-fired power plants, burning of municipal and medical waste and from factories that use mercury.

Although the use of mercury salts in consumer products, such as medicinal products, have been discontinued, inorganic mercury compounds are still being widely used in skin lightening soaps and creams.

What are the common exposures to mercury?

The main way that people are exposed to mercury is by eating fish and shellfish that have high levels of methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury. A less common way people are exposed to mercury is breathing mercury vapor, which can happen when mercury is released from a container, or from a product or device that breaks.

If the mercury is not immediately contained or cleaned up, it can evaporate, becoming an invisible, odorless, toxic vapor.

What are the effects of mercury exposure?

High-level exposure to mercury can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages.

High levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of babies developing in the womb and young children may harm their developing nervous systems, affecting their ability to think and learn.

Methylmercury at high levels of exposure can harmful effects on birds, mammals and predators who eat those animals. Effects include death, reduced reproduction, slower growth and development and abnormal behavior.