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Environ Res. 1988 Feb;45(1):48-57.

Assessment of mercury presence and exposure in a lighthouse with a mercury drive system.

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University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine, Department of Health Care and Epidemiology, Vancouver.


It is common practice for lighthouses with large Fresnel lenses to use mercury baths as a low-friction rotation mechanism. Some recent acute mercury poisonings and incidents of abnormal behavior in lighthouse keepers have drawn attention to the potential for chronic mercury poisoning in these workplaces. This study evaluated the distribution of mercury in a lighthouse on the Canadian west coast, and the exposure of its keepers and their spouses under two weather conditions. The urine mercury levels found in the lighthouse personnel were all less than would be expected in an occupationally exposed group (less than 4 micrograms/24 hr urine). Air concentrations in the lighthouse ranged from 4.4 to 26.3 micrograms/m3. Swabbing showed considerable accumulation of mercury on surfaces in the area of the light rotation mechanism, as well as transport throughout the lighthouse. The mercury levels in this lighthouse appeared to be under control through effective convective ventilation and employee awareness. The study signals potential problems where precautions have not been taken, especially in situations where the keepers and their families live in the lighthouse.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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