We have always known that everything natural is good for the body. Or so we thought.
Though Mercury has always been found in nature, often in regions with volcanic activity, its natural status doesn’t mean it’s safe. Mercury can be extremely toxic because it can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption without being known. Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences. It can damage the kidneys and the nervous system and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children.
Where can we find mercury and how can we be exposed to mercury?
Its symbol on the periodic table is Hg, atomic number 80. It’s a silvery substance that’s liquid at room temperature. It is emitted from natural activities such as volcanic eruptions and the wearing away of rocks.
There are legitimate and safe uses for mercury, though many industries such as mining and paper production are moving away from mercury processes. Mercury is used today in a wide variety of products and processes. Mercury is often used in thermometers, barometers, thermostats, fluorescent lamps, car switches, batteries, and other scientific equipments. Some medical applications, including vaccine production and dental amalgam (“silver fillings”) involve mercury. It is also used in the manufacture of chlorine and caustic soda. Until the late 1980’s it was often used in paints, in the manufacture of glass, and in other products.
It used to be that mercury exposure can only come from occupational hazards. Mercury poisoning can occur because of crude processing methods in gold-mining operations, such as the case in Ghana. Mercury and many of its chemical compounds, especially organomercury compounds, can also be readily absorbed through direct contact with bare hands in insufficiently protected, chemical laboratories, hospitals, dental clinics, and facilities that are involved in the production of items such as fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, and other scientific equipment.
By far, the most significant source of ingestion-related mercury exposure in humans and animals is the consumption of fish. Consumption of whale and dolphin meat, as is the practice in Japan, is a source of high levels of mercury poisoning. Plants and livestock can also contain mercury due to bioaccumulation of mercury from soil, water and atmosphere, and due to biomagnification by ingesting other mercury-containing organisms. Exposure to mercury can also occur from breathing contaminated air, from eating foods that have acquired mercury residues during processing, from exposure to mercury vapor in mercury amalgam dental restorations, and from improper use or disposal of mercury and mercury-containing objects, for example, after spills of elemental mercury or improper disposal of fluorescent lamps.
WARNING: Mercury might be closer than you think.
Though the use of mercury has become less and less over the years, it still found its niche in the cosmetic industry, at the expense of unknowing consumers. Mercury has been found to be an effective ingredient in skin whitening and anti-aging creams. For some consumers, the obsession for fairer and younger skin has led to widespread disregard of the negative health impacts of skin-whitening products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers against the use of products which contain mercury. In Asian countries, these items are commonly sold as skin whiteners and anti-aging creams and the bad news is you don’t have to use the product yourself to be affected.
Kids can breathe in mercury vapors. Mercury can get into their bodies from breathing in mercury vapors if a member of the household uses a skin cream containing mercury, specially among children. Infants and small children can ingest mercury if they touch their parents who have used these products, get cream on their hands and then put their hands into their mouth.
How to detect if you or a loved one have been poisoned by Mercury:
The signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning include:
- mood swings, nervousness, irritability, emotional changes
- abnormal sensations like tingling of hands, feet and around the mouth
- muscle twitching
- muscle weakness
- muscle wasting
- impairment of peripheral vision
- skin rashes
- decreased mental function and loss of coordination
- kidney malfunction
- respiratory failure, which can lead to death
The symptoms, though, are similar for other conditions like Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), dementia and multiple sclerosis (MS). The easiest way to know is to have a mercury test done. The normal levels of mercury levels are less than 10 micrograms/liter in the blood and less than 20 micrograms/liter in the urine. Before you get tested, make sure you refrain from eating fish 5 days before your scheduled test to avoid a false positive result. If you suspect that you have mercury poisoning, see a toxicologist or a neurologist.
How to protect yourself
1. Read the label on all your skin products. If you find the following words: “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio” or “mercury,” stop using the product.
2. If there is no label, then do not use the product. The law requires that the ingredients of all drugs and cosmetics should be listed on the label. The label should also indicate that the product is FDA or BFAD approved.
3. Always wash your hands thoroughly after applying any skin product.
4. Before throwing out any suspicious item, seal it in a plastic bag or container. These products may leak into the soil of the garbage dump and eventually drain into our water system.
5. And the most effective one is to be happy with the skin you’re in.