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Stay cautious when working with mercury

February 23, 2020

Metallic mercury is a liquid at room temperature and can readily evaporate into the air. It’s also a potent neurotoxin that, in small amounts, can cause serious health problems, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“Workers can be exposed to mercury if they breathe mercury vapor or have skin contact with it,” CDPH says.

Workers are most often exposed to mercury by breathing in dust or vapor containing the element. These releases can occur when instruments or equipment containing mercury break. Fluorescent light bulbs; pressure gauges at water treatment facilities; blood pressure gauges and other medical instruments; and plumbing, heating and air conditioning equipment all are potential sources.

Exposure to high levels of mercury vapor can cause death, while chronic low-dose exposure can permanently damage the nervous system and ongoing exposure can cause tremors, anxiety and memory loss, CDPH says. Mercury exposure also can adversely affect reproductive functions among men, and is especially dangerous for women.

“It can decrease a woman’s fertility and increase her chances of having a miscarriage, stillborn child or a child with birth defects,” CDPH warns.

CDPH recommends that, whenever possible, workers use equipment that doesn’t contain mercury, handle mercury-containing equipment with care and regularly inspect it for damage, and replace or repair damaged equipment.

For more information, including what to do in the event of a mercury spill, visit sh-m.ag/2LseVBy.