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Mercury

Know the latest Utah Fish Consumption Advisories.

If you have additional questions about mercury in your home, please contact Mark Jones.
Email: markejones@utah.gov
Call: (801)-538-6191.

If you need to report a mercury spill, please contact the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (UDEQ) Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR):
  • During business hours (8AM-5PM): (801) 536-4100
  • Outside business hours: (801) 536-4123 (Available 24/7/365)

If you need to safely dispose of mercury-containing products such as thermometers and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), please contact your local health department.
Mercury exists in three forms that each have different properties, uses, and toxicity to people.
Metallic mercury is liquid at room temperature, but can turn into a vapor when exposed to air. It has traditionally been used to make products like thermometers, electrical switches, and some types of light bulbs. Inorganic mercury compounds form when mercury combines with other elements like sulfur or oxygen to form mercury salts. Organic mercury compounds (such as methylmercury, dimethylmercury, etc) form when mercury combines with carbon.

People can be exposed to mercury when they breathe contaminated air, eat or drink contaminated water or food, or when they have a medical or dental procedure.
The most common way people in the U.S. are exposed to mercury is by eating fish containing methylmercury.

Fish contain varying levels of mercury. Larger fish generally contain more mercury due to a process called biomagnification. Biomagnification is the process where substances (such as mercury) accumulate in the fatty tissue as smaller animals are consumed by larger predators. As the food chain progresses, concentrations of mercury increase.

Methylmercury is readily absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract (about 95% absorbed). Once in the body, both methylmercury and metallic mercury convert to inorganic mercury. While inorganic mercury eventually passes through the body, this process can take several months and can build up in the brain. If mercury reaches the brain it can cause permanent damage.
Exposure to any of the three mercury forms can cause numerous health problems.
High levels of exposure to all forms of mercury can impact the nervous system and kidneys. Methylmercury and metallic mercury vapors are especially dangerous, because they can cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the brain.

Metallic mercury vapors are dangerous. Symptoms of prolonged and/or acute exposure include:
  • Tremors
  • Emotional changes (such as mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness)
  • Insomnia
  • Neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching)
  • Headaches
  • Disturbances in sensations
  • Changes in nerve responses
  • Poor performance on tests of mental function

Symptoms of high exposure to inorganic mercury include:
  • Skin rashes and dermatitis
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss
  • Mental disturbances
  • Muscle weakness

Most people have small amounts of methylmercury in their bodies. However at high levels, exposure to methylmercury can cause the following symptoms:
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • "Pins and needles" feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth
  • Lack of coordination of movements
  • Impairment of speech, hearing, and/or walking
  • Muscle weakness

Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding run the risk of passing mercury to their unborn or developing child.
Methylmercury can pass through the placenta and breast milk and lead to serious complications with the nervous system, digestive system, and kidneys. Metallic mercury in the blood of a pregnant woman can also enter the developing child. Children exposed to mercury in utero may have brain damage, intellectual disabilities, issues with coordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak. It is estimated that more than 75,000 newborns in the US have an increased risk of a learning disability associated with in-utero exposure to methylmercury.
Pregnant women, children in utero, and small children are particularly susceptible to the effects of mercury poisoning.
People who work in certain industries may also have a higher risk of exposure to mercury, including but not limited to dental and health services and electric motor repair.
Here are some ways to reduce risk of exposure to mercury:
  • Know the latest Utah Fish Consumption Advisories.
  • Carefully handle and dispose of products that contain mercury.
  • If large amounts of mercury have been spilled, contact your local health department.

Resources

Environmental health reports


Fish advisories

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The information provided above is from the Utah Department of Health's Center for Health Data IBIS-PH web site (http://epht.health.utah.gov). The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Sat, 01 October 2022 8:41:37 from Utah Department of Health, Center for Health Data, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site: http://epht.health.utah.gov ".

Content updated: Fri, 29 Jul 2022 10:25:07 MDT