Mercury exists in two different forms and they are both dangerous and have potential health effects: organic mercury (methylmercury) or elemental metallic mercury. Exposure to either of these can have serious neurolgical side effects.
The Harmful Health Effects of Mercury
When mercury is emitted into the environment from industrial processes it can get into the soil and water where it soon finds its way to fish and wildlife. Consumption of fish exposed to water contaminated with mercury can lead to loss of vision, numbness in hands and feet, or around the mouth, difficulty with coordination and movement, muscle weakness and speech impairment.
Infants and children are particularly susceptible to mercury and in particular brain and nervous system development. Children exposed to mercury in the womb can be subject to memory, cognitive thinking, language, fine motor skills and visual skills difficulties.
Direct exposure to metallic mercury and the resulting inhalation of the vapour can cause kidney failure, respiratory failure and death.
Sources Of Mercury
Mercury compounds were widely used as fungicides, preservatives, antiseptics or disinfectants. It is very important that these compounds do not get into the soil. If you have any of the previously listed product types that are outdated, check their labels for indications of "mecuro-" or the elemental name "Hg"
Elemental mercury is the only metal that is a liquid at room temperature. This unique property made it useful in gauges and meters. Depending on the age of some of your equipment, elemental mercury may be present in many of your gauges. If a gauge breaks, elemental mercury is very difficult to clean up as it moves like a liquid and can split into droplets when containment is attempted.
Organic mercury or methyl mercury as is found in fungicides and preservatives is readily absorbed through the skin and should never be handled with bare skin. This type of mercury is the most dangerous because of how easily it is absorbed into the body through skin contact or inhalation. Symptoms of mercury exposure may take weeks to develop and include tremors, headaches, short-term memory loss, loss of appetite and altered sense of taste and smell
Elemental mercury from thermometers, gauges and other equipment is not readily absorbed through the skin but produce vapours immediately after released from their casing. With elemental mercury, the inhalation of vapours is the inherent danger.