What is Mercury

  • Mercury is the only liquid metal.  It is also a transition metal.  Mercury has long been known as quicksilver, because it is a silver liquid.  The chemical symbol also reflects this property.  The symbol "Hg" comes from the Latin term hydrargyrum, meaning "watery silver".

  • Mercury has been around for thousands of years.   In many cultures, people learned to make mercury metal from its most important one, cinnabar.   Cinnabar usually occurs as a dark red powder.  When heated, cinnabar releases mercury as a vapour (gas).  The vapour is cooled and captured as liquid Mercury.

  • In the last fifty years, chemists have learned a great deal more about the toxic effects of both Mercury metal and most of its compounds.  The now know that Mercury itself enters the body very easily.  Its vapours pass through the skin into the blood stream,  Its vapours can also be inhaled.  And, of course, it can also be swallowed.  In any of these cases, Mercury gets into the blood and then into cells.  There it interferes with essential chemical reactions and can cause illness and death.

Sources of Mercury

Then there are very surprising sources of Mercury contamination that most would not suspect nor know.  All persons are exposed to heavy metals in our daly lives in many ways, including through polluted air, contaminated water, and through chemicals in food.

Mercury is contained in many products, including: batteries, measuring devices, such as thermometers and barometer, electric switches and relays in equipment, skin-lightening products and other cosmetics (thimerosal is widely used to make mascara) and more . . . 


Mercury compounds are in some over the counter drugs, including topical antiseptics, stimulant laxatives, diaper rash ointment, eye drops, and nasal sprays.  Mercury is still used in some diuretics, although other things can be used for most therapeutic used like vaccines such as for Hepatitis, DTP, Flu.


Alkali and metal processing, incineration of coal, and medical and other waste, plus mining of gold and mercury contribute greatly to mercury concentrations in some areas, but atmospheric deposition is the dominant source of mercury over most of the landscape. Once in the atmosphere, mercury is widely disseminated and can circulate for years, accounting for its wide-spread distribution. Natural sources of atmospheric mercury include volcanoes, geologic deposits of mercury, and volatilization from the ocean. Although all rocks, sediments, water, and soils naturally contain small but varying amounts of mercury, scientists have found some local mineral occurrences and thermal springs that are naturally high in mercury.



  • One application in which concerns about mercury have had little impact is fluorescent lamps.  A fluorescent lamp contains Mercury vapour (gas).  When the lamp is turned on, some electric current passes through the Mercury vapour, causing it to give off invisible radiation.  the radiation strikes the inside of the glass tube, whose walls are coated with a phosphor.  A phosphor is a material that gives off visible light when struck by electrons.  The tube glows as the radiation strikes the phosphor.

  • Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) have about 4,000 mcg of Mercury in them. Most of the Mercury inside is bound to the bulb during use and cannot escape. Be careful when installing or replacing a CFL, as it could break. All CFLs should be recycled and not be thrown in the garbage. You can return these bulbs to the place where you bought them. If you break a bulb and Mercury escapes, call your hazardous waste person or local fire department for directions on decontaminating the spill area.



  • Mercury dental fillings, or amalgams, have been used for more than 150 years, despite the fact that Mercury is one of the most potent neurotoxins know to man.

  • Dental amalgam is an antiquated filling material that's typically an alloy of 50% Mercury and 50% other metals (copper, tin, silver and zinc). Mercury filling are deceptively called "silver filling", referring to the colour of the material rather than its composition.

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  • Mercury from coal burning power plants is both a global and local issue.  Although a portion of the emissions reaches high in the atmosphere and gets distributed far and wide, it also contaminates locally.

  • Combustion of fossil fuels is one of the greatest sources of Mercury vapour emissions.  Coal plants pump this Mercury vapour into the air, which we inhale unknowingly, while corporations dump Mercury-filled waste into our rivers, streams and oceans from which we drink water and consume fish (Elizabeth Weise. 2009. Federal Study Shows Mercury found in All Fish Caught in U.S. - Tested Streams).


  • The effects depend on your weight, and the amount of Mercury in the fish.  for instance, according to the FDA standards, if you weigh 130 pounds, you should eat no more than 4 ounces of fish typically medium high in Mercury (tuna, halibut, grouper, northern pike, bass) per week.  If you weigh 170 pounds, then you can eat as much as 5.3 ounces a week.  Keep in mind, this is presuming you don't eat any other seafood during the week.  For the higher Mercury fish such as swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark, you should not eat these at all if you are planning a pregnancy, are pregnant, nursing, or are a young child/infant.  for the rest of the population, these fish should not be consumed more than once per month.

  • An article published on August 19, 2009, in USA today showed that research conducted by the U.S.Geological Survey found every fish caught in U.S. stream tested positive for Mercury and 27% of the fish caught had considered safe to consume. (Dr. Rashid A. Buttar, The 9 Steps to Keep the Doctor Away, Simple Actions to Shift Your Body and Mind to Optimum Health foGreater Longevity, 2010, p. 262).

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Quotes of Experts

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chemical citation mercury