Mercury is an extremely dangerous element that can be present in as a vapor or in the form of its water soluble salts. When inhaled or ingested, mercury can easily corrode the different membranes of the human body. Mercury vapor is a far more poisonous form than liquid mercury as the fumes can easily enter and contaminate the body through the fundamental biological process of inhalation.
The fine gray mercury powder which can be easily produced by mixing liquid mercury with materials such as chalk and grease is theoretically more hazardous than the liquid form of the metal as it is less promptly identifiable. Acute and limited contact with any form of mercury can lead to acute signs and symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and bleeding gums. Mercury poisoning is potentially life threatening and even fatal as it can result in permanent brain, kidney and liver injury and damage.
Because it is relatively difficult to eliminate mercury from the body, the element acts as an aggregate poison which can ultimately accumulate in the body to hazardous levels. Chronic mercury poisoning happens when meager amounts of the element or its fat soluble salts, specifically methylmercury are repetitively absorbed by the body, either by oral ingestion or through topical absorption through the skin over a very long period of time.
Ingestion of mercury can also occur though intentional or accidental contamination of foods, food sources and food products. Due to the fact that organic compounds of mercury such as dimethylmercury were once extensively used, considerable amounts of mercury have been discovered in whales and in a number of species of fish. Concern and alarm associated with unregulated industrial emission of mercury into the ecosystem, specifically from coal powered plants; has resulted in a number of stricter environmental regulations and policies in a number of countries around the world.
Results of scientific studies have exhibited that extremely high levels of mercury accumulation can result in neurological damage in individuals, specifically in young and unborn children. Many efforts have been done to decrease the cases of mercury poisoning; examples of these efforts include information dissemination and public awareness regarding the subject.