A Small Dose of Mercury

  • An Introduction into the Health Effects of Mercury


Mercury Dossier

Name: Mercury (Hg) (inorganic)

  • Use: consumer products, industry, dental amalgams, switches, thermometers
  • Source: mining, environment, workplace
  • Recommended daily intake: none (not essential)
  • Absorption: inhalation, intestine poor
  • Sensitive individuals: fetus, children, women of childbearing age
  • Toxicity/symptoms: nervous system, irritability, tremor, drowsiness, depression, incoordination
  • Regulatory facts: ATSDR - MRL - Inhalation 0.2 µg/m3
  • General facts: long history of use, liquid silver evaporates at room temperature, bacteria convert to organic methyl mercury
  • Environmental: global environmental contaminant
  • Recommendations: avoid, recycle mercury-containing devices


Name: Mercury (organic) (methyl mercury - Hg-CH3)

  • Use: limited laboratory use
  • Source: contaminates some fish (ex. tuna, shark, pike)
  • Recommended daily intake: none (not essential)
  • Absorption: intestine (90%)
  • Sensitive individuals: fetus, children, women of child bearing age
  • Toxicity/symptoms: nervous system, developmental effects include cerebral palsy-like symptoms with involvement of the visual, sensory, and auditory systems, tingling around lips and mouth, tingling in fingers and toes, vision, losses in hearing and vision
  • Regulatory facts: EPA - RfD - 0.1 µg/kg/day
    FDA - 1 ppm in commercial fish
    ATSDR - MRL - 0.30 µg/kg/day
  • General facts: bacteria convert inorganic mercury to methyl mercury, which enters food supply (bioaccumulation)
  • Environmental: global environmental contaminate, bioaccumulates in some fish
  • Recommendations: avoid, recycle mercury-containing devices

Mercury Chapter

PowerPoint Presentation

More Information and References

European, Asian, and International Agencies

  • United Nations Environment Program. Reducing Risk from Mercury. This program aims to develop a global assessment of mercury and its compounds, including an outline of options for addressing any significant global adverse impacts of mercury.

North American Agencies

  • Health Canada. Mercury. Health Canada provides information on the health effects and environmental distribution of mercury.
  • US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). About Dental Amalgam Fillings. Recent information from FDA regarding the use and safety of mercury amalgams.
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mercury.
  • US Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxic Substances - Mercury. ATSDR produces toxicology profile documents on many compounds including mercury.
  • Washington State Department of Health. Fish. Site has information on Washington State's advisory of fish consumption and mercury.
  • Washington State Department of Ecology. Mercury Reduction in Washington. Comprehensive information on uses and release of mercury in Washington and efforts to reduce mercury use and release. 

Non-government Organizations

  • The Mercury Policy Project (MPP). "MPP works to raise awareness about the threat of mercury contamination and promote policies to eliminate mercury uses, reduce the export and trafficking of mercury, and significantly reduce mercury exposures at the local, national, and international levels."
  • Sea Turtle Restoration Project. Got Mercury?. A calculator that estimates mercury intake from fish and shellfish.



  • Clarkson, T. "Methylmercury and fish consumption: Weighing the risks". Can Med Assoc J 158 (1998): 1465-1466.
  • Clarkson, T. W. "The three modern faces of mercury". Environ Health Perspect 110, Suppl 1 (2002): 11-23.
  • Gilbert, S. G. and K. S. Grant-Webster, K. S. "Neurobehavioral effects of developmental methylmercury exposure". Environ Health Perspect, 6 (1995): 135-142.
  • Kales, S. N., & R. H. Goldman. "Mercury exposure: current concepts, controversies, and a clinic's experience". J Occup Environ Med 44, 2 (2002): 143-154.
  • Martin, D. M., DeRouen, T. A., and B. G. Leroux. "Is Mercury Amalgam Safe for Dental Fillings?" Washington Public Health, 15, Fall (1997): 30-32.
  • Putman, John. "Quicksilver and Slow Death". National Geographic 142, 4 (1972): 507-527.
  • Zeitz, P., Orr, M. F., and W. E. Kaye. "Public health consequences of mercury spills: Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance system, 1993-1998". Environ Health Perspect 110, 2 (2002): 129-132.                                                                                                                


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