Poisoning is the taking of a substance that is injurious to your health. Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can harm you.
Mercury is poisonous and its toxicity depends on which chemical form you’ve been exposed to and the route of this exposure. Mercury is a neurotoxin, along with other heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and aluminum.
Organic, inorganic and elemental mercury are the three chemical forms of mercury. Of the three, organic mercury causes the greatest toxicity health concern, and specifically methylmercury poisoning.
Organic mercury can cause health issues if breathed, eaten or absorbed through your skin. And methylmercury toxic exposure is most often caused by the consumption of fish and shellfish.
The toxicity symptoms of organic mercury poisoning:
- hair loss
- metallic taste
- walking difficulty
- muscle weakness
- memory problems
- lack of coordination
- speech, hearing problems
- “pins and needles” sensation
- blindness, double vision, peripheral vision impairment
And a developing nervous systems (fetus and children) are substantially more sensitive to methylmercury effects and it can cause irreversible neurological damage.
Trace amounts of methylmercury is in just about everyone’s tissues. About 90% of ingested methylmercury is absorbed into the bloodstream. And the expulsion rate of this poison is slower than other forms of mercury.
Mercury is a natural part of the environment, volcanoes are one source. Yet, the primary reason methylmercury ends up in seafood is industrial pollution. A couple of mercury poisoning points of supply include coal burning power plants, waste incinerators and mining.
When mercury is pumped out into the air, it has a high incidence of settling in water. And a bacteria, that naturally is present in soil and sediment, converts the settling mercury to methylmercury. This neurotoxin is contaminating bodies of water, the only environment fish live in.
Small fish absorb methylmercury from the water when it passes over their gills and when they consume methylmercury tainted flora and fauna. This neurotoxin accumulates in their muscle tissue.
When big fish eat the smaller toxic fish, they also accumulate methylmercury from their prey. The rule of thumb is the bigger and older fish have a higher concentration of methylmercury.
As such, swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tile fish can build up a substantial amount of mercury. While, the lower in mercury aquatic food stuff involving shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish and canned light tuna.
Pregnant women should not eat fish that may be high in mercury.
Seafood is the main dietary source of mercury. However, there are other routes for mercury to gain entry, such as dental fillings, pharmaceuticals and contact with mercury metal or its compounds.
Inorganic mercury is usually poisonous if swallowed. These neurotoxins used to be in products like fungicides, antiseptics or disinfectants. Traditional medicines containing calomel, cinnabar or other mercuric salts should never be ingested or used on your skin.
- skin rashes
- memory loss
- mood swings
- throat burning
- abdominal pain
- bloody diarrhea
- burning stomach
- muscle weakness
- decreased urination
Permanent kidney damage and failure can result.
Skin contact with inorganic mercury can lead to nerve damage, causing poisoning symptoms of weakness, numbness, and tingling. Some skin lightening and freckle creams may contain mercury.
Elemental mercury usually only causes health effects when it’s breathed in. Respiratory and associated symptoms may include:
Depending on how much mercury you inhale, permanent respiratory damage and death can result.
Typical household sources of this form of mercury poisoning are from a broken thermometer or fluorescent light. Spilled mercury needs to be carefully scooping it up with paper or sticky tape, then sealed in multiple plastic bags and disposed of as hazardous waste.
Avoiding mercury is the best way to prevent mercury poisoning’s neurological and respiratory symptoms. Always follow guidelines about eating locally caught fish. And review the federal consumption advice.
For adults, mercury poisoning is usually reversible. Your body can reduce mercury toxicity if exposure is stopped.