“Because we don't think about future generations, they will never forget us.” - Henrick Tikkanen

Aquinas College

Mercury

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Mercury (Hg) is a silvery-white transition metal, the heaviest known elemental liquid. Throughout history, mercury has had a variety of uses including cosmetics and ointments. Today, it is often used in thermometers, barometers, dental fillings, pesticides, diffusion pumps, switches, electrodes, mercury cell batteries, mercury-vapour lamps, chlorine production and gold mining (WebElements). Exposure to elemental mercury in low levels can lead to tremors and nueromuscular changes, but higher levels can cause kidney damage, respiratory failure and death. Many other (seemingly endless) human health effects can result from exposure to mercury compounds.

Not only does mercury present a threat to human health, it also poses an immediate risk to wildlife and ecosystems. Mercury undergoes bio-accumulation (or biological magnification), which the EPA defines as "the process whereby certain substances such as pesticides or heavy metals move up the food chain, work their way into rivers or lakes, and are eaten by aquatic organisms such as fish, which in turn are eaten by large birds, animals or humans. The substances become concentrated in tissues or internal organs as they move up the chain." Bio-accumulation occurs when a compound is not water soluble (or body is mostly water), and therefore is stored in the fats of species.

While the use of mercury has decreased over the past few decades, Hg still shows up in a wide variety of products like thermometers, jewelry, batteries, and paint (EPA). Mercury continues to leak into the biosphere, infecting fish, people, birds, and other creatures. It is indisputable that the use of mercury must be completely halted. However, if we must continue utilizing its compounds, mercury must always be maintained in a closed loop cycle and never be released into the environment.

Links

U.S. Geological Survey

This site contains information on the toxic effects, risks to people and wildlife, fish advisories, sources of mercury, and the history of mercury contamination.

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