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Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2003 Sep;56(1):174-9.

Cases of mercury exposure, bioavailability, and absorption.

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Environmental and Community Medicine, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, Piscataway, NJ 08854, USA.


Mercury is a unique element that, unlike many metals, has no essential biological function. It is liquid at room temperature and is 13.6 times heavier than water. Its unique physical properties have been exploited for a variety of uses such as in mercury switches, thermostats, thermometers, and other instruments. Its ability to amalgamate with gold and silver are used in mining these precious metals and as a dental restorative. Its toxic properties have been exploited for medications, preservatives, antiseptics, and pesticides. For these reasons there have been many industrial uses of mercury, and occupational exposures of workers and industrial emissions and effluents contaminating air, water, soil, and ultimately food chains have long been a matter of great public health concern. This paper examines briefly six cases representing various forms of exposure to different species of mercury, and indicates the methodological issues in estimating exposure, bioavailability and absorption; these cases include Minamata disease in Japan, organic mercury poisoning in Iraq, methylmercury (MeHg) exposure in the Amazon, dimethylmercury (PMM) in the laboratory, an elemental mercury spill in Cajamarca, Peru, and a mercury-contaminated building in Hoboken, NJ, USA. Other scenarios that are not described include occupational exposure to mercury salts, mercurial preservatives in vaccines, cultural and ritualistic uses of mercury, and mercury in dental amalgams.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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