A Review of Events That Expose Children to Elemental Mercury in the United States
Published Date:Jan 12 2009
Source:Environ Health Perspect. 117(6):871-878.
Concern for children exposed to elemental mercury prompted the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to review the sources of elemental mercury exposures in children, describe the location and proportion of children affected, and make recommendations on how to prevent these exposures. In this review, we excluded mercury exposures from coal-burning facilities, dental amalgams, fish consumption, medical waste incinerators, or thimerosal-containing vaccines.
We reviewed federal, state, and regional programs with information on mercury releases along with published reports of children exposed to elemental mercury in the United States. We selected all mercury-related events that were documented to expose (or potentially expose) children. We then explored event characteristics (i.e., the exposure source, location).
Primary exposure locations were at home, at school, and at other locations such as industrial property not adequately remediated or medical facilities. Exposure to small spills from broken thermometers was the most common scenario; however, reports of such exposures are declining.
Discussion and conclusions
Childhood exposures to elemental mercury often result from inappropriate handling or cleanup of spilled mercury. The information reviewed suggests that most releases do not lead to demonstrable harm if the exposure period is short and the mercury is properly cleaned up.
Primary prevention should include health education and policy initiatives. For larger spills, better coordination among existing surveillance systems would assist in understanding the risk factors and in developing effective prevention efforts.
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