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Hum Exp Toxicol. 1992 May;11(3):201-10.

Elemental mercury vapour toxicity, treatment, and prognosis after acute, intensive exposure in chloralkali plant workers. Part I: History, neuropsychological findings and chelator effects.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN 37232-6602.


Mercury poisoning occurred after the acute, prolonged exposure of 53 construction workers to elemental mercury. Of those exposed, 26 were evaluated by clinical examination and tests of neuropsychological function. Patients received treatment with chelation therapy in the first weeks after exposure. Eleven of the patients with the highest mercury levels were followed in detail over an extended period. Observations included the evaluation of subjective symptoms of distress, using the 'Symptom Check List 90-Revised' (SCL-90R) and tests of visual-motor function such as 'Trailmaking Parts A and B', 'Finger Tapping', 'Stroop Colour Word Test' and 'Grooved Pegboard.' On day 85 +/- 11 (mean +/- s.d.) after exposure, these 11 men again received either 2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) or N-acetyl-D, L-penicillamine (NAP) in a short-term study designed to compare the potential to mobilize mercury and the incidence of drug-induced toxicity of these two chelating agents. Rapidly resolving metal fume fever was the earliest manifestation of symptoms. CNS symptoms and abnormal performance on neuropsychological tests persisted over the prolonged period of follow-up. There were significant correlations between neuropsychological tests and indices of mercury exposure. Serial mercury in the blood and urine verified the long half-life and large volume of distribution of mercury. Chelation therapy with both drugs resulted in the mobilization of a small fraction of the total estimated body mercury. However, DMSA was able to increase the excretion of mercury to a greater extent than NAP. These observations demonstrate that acute exposure to elemental mercury and its vapour induces acute, inorganic mercury toxicity and causes long-term, probably irreversible, neurological sequelae.

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