It's no secret that mercury fumes are extremely poisonous. However, man encounters this metal both in everyday life and in production. What is mercury? At room temperature, this metal turns into a silvery-white liquid, which gradually evaporates in air, releasing toxic fumes.
This metal is found in mercury medical thermometers, in fluorescent energy-saving lamps, and various electrical devices.
Once upon a time, doctors used mercury to treat diseases. It was used in dental practice, in the treatment of volvulus and syphilis. In the Middle Ages, this metal was often used for the preparation of poisons, in the manufacture of mirrors and felt. The most famous and common mercury compounds are sublimate, cinnabar, calomel.
Both mercury itself and its compounds have a pronounced neurotoxic effect. Mercury poisoning is easy enough, especially in production, where the concentration of such a metal is very high. At home, of course, you should not sit back with a broken mercury thermometer, but in this case you will not receive severe poisoning.
However, you should definitely know how mercury poisoning manifests itself, what are its signs and symptoms? What should be done in cases when a thermometer crashed or a mercury leak occurred in any other way at home? Especially if there are small children in the house. These and many other questions will be discussed in the next article.
How does mercury poisoning occur
Mercury vapor poisoning is a condition of the body caused by exposure to the respiratory tract or inward through the gastrointestinal tract of mercury vapors, as well as mercury compounds.
With a mercury concentration of more than 0.25 milligrams per cubic meter, various problems with the respiratory organs begin to develop, with a higher density, almost all other internal organs and body systems are affected.
In human blood, an elevated concentration of mercury is considered to be 35 ng / ml or more, in the urine - 150 µg / l.
Experts believe that children and women are the most sensitive to mercury vapor.
Both organic and inorganic mercury can cause poisoning. Elementary, or inorganic mercury is used in sphygmomanometers, thermometers, materials for making fillings. Mercury salts are used in the manufacture of certain drugs, plastics, and food. Organic mercury can be found in cosmetics, paints, foods and medicines.
Mercury salts are often methylated in bacteria, which leads to pollution of the environment with this metal, and its sedimentation in living organisms, for example, in fish. Further, it turns out that by eating such poisoned fish, a person also poisons his body.
Inorganic mercury vapors enter the human body along with air and settle in the lungs. After, through the pulmonary alveoli penetrate into the circulatory system and are distributed through the blood to all internal organs and systems. Absorption of this metal by the organs of the gastrointestinal tract is very insignificant. Elemental mercury is excreted from the human body through feces and urine. Very little of it comes back with the help of the lungs. Its half-life is approximately two months.
Inorganic mercury and its compounds entering the human body with food cause the greatest harm to the digestive system: it eats away the mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines, thanks to which it spreads throughout the body. Mercury salts mostly settle in the kidneys, the rest of them affect the liver, spleen, intestines, lungs, skin, bone marrow and blood. It is also derived by the urinary system and fecal masses. In such cases, its half-life is about forty days.
Organic methylated mercury and its compounds enter the body mainly orally. Usually it is rapidly absorbed by the intestines, as well as through the pores of the skin. Such mercury is also dangerous in that it easily penetrates the placental and blood-brain barriers, as well as into breast milk. Due to its association with blood proteins, methylated mercury is spread throughout the body, settling mostly in the circulatory system, kidneys and the central nervous system. Organic metal is derived from the human body through urine. The half-life reaches seventy days.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning
The first symptoms that indicate mercury poisoning begin to appear when the concentration of such a metal in the blood — more than 500 ng / ml and in the urine — more than 600 μg / ml. There are acute and chronic mercury poisoning.
Signs characteristic of acute metal poisoning:
- severe coughing, asthma, catarrh of the upper respiratory tract;
- sore throat when swallowing, shortness of breath, chest pain, pneumonia;
- headaches and dizziness, trembling in the body;
- increased body temperature up to 40 degrees, chills;
- severe fluid loss leading to dehydration;
- abdominal pain, nausea, tenesmus, vomiting, and diarrhea with blood;
- bleeding gums, gingivitis;
- taste of metal in the mouth, copious salivation.
The manifestation of signs of chronic mercury poisoning are called mercury poisoning. It is also known the phenomenon of micromercurialism, in which a person manifests some signs of mercury poisoning when exposed to insignificantly small doses of metal for five to ten years.
Signs of incipient mercurialism are:
- general weakness, apathy, severe fatigue;
- frequent urination, severe swelling of the limbs;
- nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite;
- decrease in taste, smell, skin sensitivity;
- stomatitis, gingivitis, tooth loss;
- excessive salivation, excessive sweating;
- tremor of the limbs, turning into a tremor in the whole body;
- skin rashes, hyperkeratosis and hypertrichosis of the skin, dermatitis;
- photophobia, irritability, insomnia or drowsiness, decreased intellectual ability, irritability, headaches and dizziness;
- heart rhythm disturbances, lower blood pressure, acrodynia, or pink disease.
Complications and effects of mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning does not pass without a trace to the body and in the frequent cases without proper treatment leads to serious complications and unforeseen consequences, which are expressed in:
- respiratory failure;
- coma and death.
If a pregnant woman inhaled mercury vapors in high concentrations, this does not go without consequences for the unborn baby. In severe cases, this leads to atrophy of the cerebellum or cerebral cortex, the development of cerebral palsy in the fetus.
Postpartum poisoning with mercury vapors or mercury compounds in some cases leads to:
- impaired hearing, speech and vision;
- lack of coordination of movement;
- paresthesia and paralysis;
- loss of memory;
- stupor, coma and death.
It happens that some of these symptoms remain with the poisoned person for the rest of his life.
Causes of mercury poisoning
Sources of mercury poisoning are:
- mercury lamps;
- mercury thermometers;
- fluorescent gas-discharge energy-saving lamps;
- mercury-zinc batteries;
- dental amalgam fillings;
- medication: merkuzal, calomel, sublimate;
- industrial combustion of gas or coal in large quantities;
- fish or mollusks living in ecologically polluted water bodies;
- places of natural origin of mercury.
First aid for mercury poisoning
If a person has signs of acute mercury vapor poisoning, it is necessary:
- Remove the affected person from the lesion.
- Make him drink a few glasses of salted water or a weak solution of potassium permanganate.
- To induce vomiting mechanically.
- Rinse the throat with a weak solution of manganese.
- Give a few glasses of water again.
- Give the victim "Unithiol" - a universal remedy, which is an antidote for poisoning with heavy metals. Activated carbon in this case is useless and its use will not affect the patient's condition.
- Give a poisoned person laxatives.
After providing first aid, it is necessary to deliver the affected person to a medical facility for further therapy.
All treatment of a person who has been poisoned by heavy metals, in particular mercury, comes down to their early removal from the victim's body. For this purpose, complex medications with active dithiol groups are used. With identified renal failure, it is advisable to assign hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis.
Also often used symptomatic treatment to improve the patient's condition.
Prevention of mercury vapor poisoning and compounds
To prevent this kind of poisoning, you must comply with safety measures.
When working at industrial enterprises in conditions of possible mercury vapor poisoning, the oral cavity should be rinsed daily with a solution of potassium permanganate or chlorate. Keep a mercury thermometer away from children. It is best to replace mercury thermometers with a safer one: electronic or infrared. To refuse the use of energy-saving mercury lamps, replacing them with more economical LED. Do not eat fish and marine mollusks caught in polluted water bodies. Do not leave unattended a child measuring the temperature with a mercury thermometer. Do not self-medicate and take medications prescribed by a doctor.
Mercury vapor poisoning most often occurs in industrial plants working with this metal. The reason for this is the leakage of mercury in various emergency situations or in case of non-compliance with safety regulations. Mercury poisoning, especially in high concentrations, often leads to serious and serious consequences, including coma or death. Therefore, it is extremely important to be able to provide first aid to the injured person and to begin therapy more quickly. To avoid such situations, it is necessary to know and follow the safety regulations when working with substances containing mercury or its compounds.