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hazardous material information


SUMMARY: Exposure to mercury occurs from breathing contaminated air, ingesting contaminated water and food, and having dental and medical treatment. Mercury, at high levels, may damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. This chemical has been found in at least 667 of 1.416 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency. To find out if you live near a NPL site, or if the commercial building you are planning to buy is a NPL site, contact A.Q. Management & Control, Inc.

What is Mercury?
(Pronounce mer' cure-ee)

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal which has several forms. The metallic mercury is shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid. If heated, it is a colorless, odorless gas.

Mercury combines with other elements, such as chlorine, sulfur, or oxygen, to form inorganic mercury compound or "salts." Most inorganic mercury compounds are white powder or crystals. Mercury also combines with carbon to make organic mercury compounds. The most common organic mercury compound is methylmercury. Methylmercury is produced mainly by small organism in the water and soil, but more mercury in the environment can increase the levels of methylmercury that these small organism make.

Metallic mercury is used to produce chlorine gas and caustic soda and also in thermometers, dental fillings, and batteries. Mercury salts are used in skin-lightening creams and as antiseptic creams and ointments.

What happens to mercury when it enter the environment?

Inorganic mercury (metallic mercury and inorganic mercury compounds) enters the air mining ore deposits, burning coal and waste, and from manufacturing plants. It enters the water or soil from natural deposits, disposal of water, and the use of mercury-containing fungicides. Methylmercury may be formed in water and soil by small organism called bacteria. Methylmercury builds up in the tissue of fish and other organism. Its levels in tissues increase as we up the food chain.

How might I be exposed to mercury?

  • Eating fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury.
  • Breathing vapor in air from spill, incinerators, and industries that burn mercury-containing fuels.
  • Release of mercury during dental and medical treatments.
  • Breathing contaminated work place air or skin contact during use in the work place (dental, health services, chemical, and other industries that use mercury).
  • Exposure to above-background levels in air, soil, and water near hazardous waste sites.
How can mercury affect my health?

The nervous system is very sensitive to all from of mercury, although some forms are more harmful than others because of how the body handles them. Breathing metal vapors, or breathing or ingesting methylmercury causes the most harm because more mercury in the form reaches the brain. Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidney, and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems. Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors may also cause other effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation.

Exposure to high levels of inorganic mercury slats can cause damage, nervous system effects, nausea, and diarrhea.

In some repeated poisoning incidents, people who ate contaminated fish or seed grains with high levels of methyl-mercury developed permanent damage to the brain, kidney, and growing fetus.

Exposure to methylmercury is more dangerous for young children than for adults, because more of it passes into children's brains where it interferes with normal development.

How likely is mercury to cause cancer?

The Department of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) have not classified mercury as its human carcinogenity because of a lack of data from studies on people and laboratory animals.

Is there a medical test to show whether I've been expose to mercury?

Test are available to measure mercury levels in the body. Blood or urine samples used are to test for exposure to metallic mercury an to inorganic from of mercury. Measurement of mercury in whole blood or in scalp hair is used to measure exposure to methylmercury. Your doctor can take samples and send them to a testing laboratory.

Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?

The EPA has set a limit of 2 parts of mercury per billion parts of drinking water (2 PPB). The EPA requires that discharges or spills of 1 pound or more of mercury be reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set a maximum permissible level of 1 part of methylmercury in a million parts of seafood (1 PPM).

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a limit of 1 milligram of mercury per 10 cubic meters of work place air (1 mg/10 m3) that should not be exceeded during any of the workday.

Where can I get more information?

Contact the local occupational and environmental health clinic. Their specialist can recognize, evaluate, and treat illness resulting from exposure to hazardous substances. You can also contact your community or state health or environmental quality department. If you have any more questions or concerns, contact A.Q. Management & Control for further information.

Carcinogenicity: Ability to cause cancer.
Ingesting: Taking food or drinking into your body.
Milligram (Mg): One thousandth of a gram.
PPB: Parts per billion. PPM: Parts per million.



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