Mercury is a naturally occurring element, but more than 2,000 tons are emitted into the atmosphere each year from human-generated sources such as coal-fired power plants, small-scale gold-mining operations, metals and cement production, incineration and caustic soda production.
This mercury is deposited onto land and into water, where micro-organisms convert some of it to methylmercury, a highly toxic organic form that builds up in fish and the animals that eat them, including humans. Effects on humans include damage to the central nervous system, heart and immune system. The developing brains of fetuses and young children are especially vulnerable.
Inorganic mercury can also cause central nervous system and kidney damage. Exposure to inorganic mercury occurs primarily through the inhalation of elemental mercury vapor. Industrial workers and gold miners can be at risk, as well as dentists who install mercury amalgam fillingsthough dentists have increasingly switched to resin-based composite fillings and restorations in recent years.
About 80 percent of inhaled mercury vapor is absorbed into the bloodstream in the lungs and transported to the kidneys, where it is excreted in urine. Because the mercury found in urine is almost entirely inorganic, total mercury concentrations in urine are commonly used as an indicator, or biomarker, for exposure to inorganic mercury from dental amalgams.
But the study by Sherman, Blum and their colleagues suggests that urine contains a mix of inorganic mercury from dental amalgams and methylmerc
|Contact: Jim Erickson|
University of Michigan