Mercury can be very dangerous and deadly if not detected and
taken care. The Fox River and the bay of Green Bay have
mercury levels that can be harmful if consumed in large
amounts. GBMSD believes that awareness and prevention tips can
easily eliminate most of the mercury injuries and spills. To help
educate others on mercury, GBMSD created the Mercury Pollution
Minimization Plan (PMP).
Mercury is a heavy, silvery-white metal element. It can exist as
a liquid at room temperature or as a solid crystal salt. The liquid
metal form gives off invisible, odorless, toxic vapors. Mercury can
also be found in organic (with carbon) compounds. Commonly,
metallic mercury can be found in thermometers, barometers,
electrical switches, thermostats and in dental fillings.
When mercury is released from industries into the air, it can
travel long distances and be deposited on soil and in lakes. In
lakes, small organisms change the mercury to a form of organic
mercury (methylmercury) that builds up in the bodies of fish. Some
lakes in Wisconsin have health advisories that recommend against
eating too much of certain types of fish containing high levels of
Organic mercury is the most poisonous form. It is used as a
fungicide and preservative for seeds, wood products, and paper
products. In homes, organic mercury can be found in latex paints,
and metallic mercury is sometimes used in religious rituals.
Breathing: People can be exposed by breathing mercury vapors.
This type of exposure can happen in the workplace, or in homes
where mercury is spilled. People who use exterior latex paints that
contain mercury in unventilated areas may be exposed and could
become seriously ill.
Drinking/Eating: People can be exposed to mercury by eating fish
or shellfish caught in contaminated waters. Some dental fillings
contain mercury, ask your dentist about possible mercury
alternatives. Mercury can enter the body when contaminated water is
used for drinking or for preparing food.
Touching: People who work with exterior latex-paints containing
mercury can absorb mercury through their skin. If a water supply is
contaminated, people can absorb mercury as they bathe or use the
water for other purposes.
Water: The state and federal drinking water standards are both
set at 2 parts per billion (ppb) of mercury. The WI DHFS suggest
you stop drinking water containing more than 2 ppb of mercury. If
levels of mercury are very high in your water, you may need to
avoid washing, bathing, or using the water for other purposes.
Contact your local public health agency for more information
specific to your situation.
Air: No standards exist for the amount of mercury allowed in the
air of homes. The WI DHFS uses a formula to convert workplace
limits to suggested home limits. Based on the formula, recommended
levels of mercury vapor are no higher than 2 ppb.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regulates the
amount of mercury that can be released by industries.
Metallic liquid mercury generally does not absorb very well when
it is swallowed. Breathing its vapors is very dangerous. When
metallic mercury is touched it can slowly pass through the
The following health effects can happen immediately or shortly
after exposure to high levels of mercury:
Children and infants can develop a specific allergic reaction to
The following health effects can occur after several years of
exposure to mercury (more than 10 ppb in air):
Cancer: There is no evidence that mercury causes cancer.
Reproductive Effects: Symptoms can include menstrual problems,
possible miscarriages and damage to unborn babies.
Organ Systems: People's nervous systems and kidneys are very
sensitive to mercury and are easily damaged. Symptoms of damage
include blood in urine, shaking, burning pain in legs and feet,
sleep disturbance, personality changes, irritability and memory
In general, chemicals affect the same organ systems in all
people who are exposed. A person's reaction depends on several
things, including individual health, previous exposure to
chemicals, and personal habits such as smoking or drinking. It's
also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical;
the amount of chemical exposure; and whether the chemical was
inhaled, touched, or eaten.
Blood, urine, hair and breast milk can all be tested for
mercury. Normal levels of mercury in urine can vary, but are
generally less than 15 parts per billion. Doctors can do additional
medical tests to check kidney and nervous system functions.
Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may
be related to chemical exposure.
This fact sheet summarizes information about this chemical and
is not a complete listing of all possible effects. It does not
refer to work exposure or emergency situations. For more
Wisconsin Poison Control Center 1-800-815-8855, your local
public health department, or the Division of Public Health, BEH, 1
West Wilson Street, Rm. 150, Madison, WI 53701-2659, (608)
Prepared by the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family
Services Division of Public Health with funds from the Agency for
Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Public Health Service, U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services.
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