Mercury and health care
Mercury is toxic heavy metal. It has many characteristic features. Health care organizations have used mercury in many forms since time immemorial. The main uses of mercury are in dental amalgam, sphygmomanometers, and thermometers. The mercury once released into the environment can remain for a longer period. Both acute and chronic poisoning can be caused by it. Half of the mercury found in the atmosphere is human generated and health care contributes the substantial part to it. The world has awakened to the harmful effects of mercury. The World Health Organization and United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) have issued guidelines for the countries’ health care sector to become mercury free. UNEP has formed mercury partnerships between governments and other stakeholders as one approach to reducing risks to human health and the environment from the release of mercury and its compounds to the environment. Many hospitals are mercury free now.

Mercury (Hg) is a heavy silvery-white metal that is found in liquid state at room temperature. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum. Mercury with atomic number 80 has many characteristic features. It is the only metal that is liquid at standard conditions for temperature and pressure.[1] With a melting point of −38.83°C and boiling point of 356.73°C, mercury has one of the narrowest ranges of its liquid state of any metal. As compared with other metals, it is a poor conductor of heat, but a fair conductor of electricity.[2] Mercury readily vaporizes and may stay in the atmosphere for up to a year. When released into the air, it is transported and deposited globally. Mercury ultimately accumulates at the bottom of water bodies, where it is transformed into its more toxic organic form, methyl mercury, which accumulates in fish tissue. Elemental mercury was known to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Hindus. Each civilization had its own legends about mercury, and it was used as everything from a medicine to a talisman.

Mercury Toxicity

Mercury gets released into the environment either by volcanic eruptions or by human activities. Volcanic eruptions can increase the atmospheric source by 4–6 times.[5] Natural sources, such as volcanoes, are responsible for approximately half of the atmospheric mercury emissions. The human-generated half can be divided into the following estimated percentages[6] (global human-caused-mercury emissions estimates in 2000):

65% from stationary combustion, such as coal-fired power plants.
11% from gold production.
6.8% from nonferrous metal production, typically smelters.
6.4% from cement production.
3.0% from waste disposal, including municipal and hazardous waste, crematoria, and sewage sludge incineration.
3.0% from caustic soda production.
1.4% from pig iron and steel production.
1.1% from mercury production, mainly for batteries.
2.0% from other sources.

Key facts

  • Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil.
  • Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life.
  • Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
  • Mercury is considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.
  • People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound.
  • Methylmercury is very different to ethylmercury. Ethylmercury is used as a preservative in some vaccines and does not pose a health risk.

Mercury exists in various forms: elemental (or metallic) and inorganic (to which people may be exposed through their occupation); and organic (e.g., methylmercury, to which people may be exposed through their diet). These forms of mercury differ in their degree of toxicity and in their effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.

Mercury occurs naturally in the earth's crust. It is released into the environment from volcanic activity, weathering of rocks and as a result of human activity. Human activity is the main cause of mercury releases, particularly coal-fired power stations, residential coal burning for heating and cooking, industrial processes, waste incinerators and as a result of mining for mercury, gold and other metals.

Once in the environment, mercury can be transformed by bacteria into methylmercury. Methylmercury then bioaccumulates (bioaccumulation occurs when an organism contains higher concentrations of the substance than do the surroundings) in fish and shellfish. Methylmercury also biomagnifies. For example, large predatory fish are more likely to have high levels of mercury as a result of eating many smaller fish that have acquired mercury through ingestion of plankton.

People may be exposed to mercury in any of its forms under different circumstances. However, exposure mainly occurs through consumption of fish and shellfish contaminated with methylmercury and through worker inhalation of elemental mercury vapours during industrial processes. Cooking does not eliminate mercury.

Exposure to mercury
All humans are exposed to some level of mercury. Most people are exposed to low levels of mercury, often through chronic exposure (continuous or intermittent long term contact). However, some people are exposed to high levels of mercury, including acute exposure (exposure occurring over a short period of time, often less than a day). An example of acute exposure would be mercury exposure due to an industrial accident.

Factors that determine whether health effects occur and their severity include:

  • the type of mercury concerned;
  • the dose;
  • the age or developmental stage of the person exposed (the foetus is most susceptible);
  • the duration of exposure;
  • the route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion or dermal contact).

Generally, two groups are more sensitive to the effects of mercury. Foetuses are most susceptible to developmental effects due to mercury. Methylmercury exposure in the womb can result from a mother's consumption of fish and shellfish. It can adversely affect a baby's growing brain and nervous system. The primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Therefore, cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills may be affected in children who were exposed to methylmercury as foetuses.

We plan to do einterviews with MBBS doctors to understand 4 things
1) Tests or questions you ask in first few meetings
2) What it means in medical terms
3) What it means in non medical terms
4) What should the patient or care takers do

We might interview Aurvedic doctors, homeopathic doctors, Yoga teachers on this health issue

Video links
Mercury and Our Health

Mercury Exposure and Health Effects

Mercury - dangerous material
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