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ATSDR toxzine : Mercury
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  • Description:
    Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and exists in several forms.

    These forms can be organized under three headings: metallic mercury (also known as elemental mercury), inorganic mercury, and organic mercury. Metallic mercury is used in a variety of household products and industrial items, including thermostats, fluorescent light bulbs, barometers, glass thermometers, and some blood pressure devices. Additionally, some religions have practices that may include the use of metallic mercury. The most common organic mercury compound that microorganisms and natural processes generate from other forms is methylmercury . Methylmercury is of particular concern because it can build up in certain edible freshwater and saltwater fish and marine mammals to levels that are many times greater than levels in the surrounding water.

    Because mercury occurs naturally in the environment, everyone is exposed to very low levels of mercury in air, water, and food . Some people may be exposed to higher levels of mercury in this form if they have a diet high in fish, shellfish, or marine mammals. Workers are mostly exposed from breathing air that contains mercury vapors, but may also be exposed to other inorganic mercury compounds in the workplace. Children are at risk of being exposed to metallic mercury that is not safely contained, to mercury that may be brought home on work clothes or tools, or to methylmercury- contaminated foods.


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