Whether through the food we eat, the air we breathe or the cosmetics we use, everyone is exposed to mercury to some degree. Inhaling or ingesting large amounts of mercury can lead to serious neurological health implications. Symptoms can include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, headaches, muscle weakness and, in extreme cases, death.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two groups are particularly at risk: unborn children, whose mothers have high levels of mercury in their blood, and those who are regularly exposed to high levels of mercury, such as fishermen. of subsistence.
Here are some ways humans are exposed to the elements on a daily basis:
Consumption of fish
Seafood is the main source of protein for over three billion people around the world. Because mercury “bio-accumulates” in the food chain, larger fish such as shark, swordfish, tuna and marlin tend to be particularly high in mercury. People who consume very large amounts of seafood can be exposed to high levels of methylmercury, an organic compound that accumulates in the bodies of fish.
Mercury is also found in beauty products, particularly in lightening creams, but also in make-up and eye cleansing products. While many countries have imposed laws banning mercury from cosmetics, others have yet to do so and mercury-contaminated products have been found on major online retailers. Consumers seeking to avoid the toxic element should purchase products from reputable suppliers and make sure their products are properly sealed and labeled.
Artisanal and small-scale gold miners regularly use mercury to help them separate gold from other material, and most of that mercury ends up in the environment. In 2015, according to the Global Mercury Assessment, artisanal and small-scale mines emitted about 800 tons of mercury into the air, about 38% of the global total, and also released about 1,200 tons of mercury into land and water. . Mercury poisoning also poses a serious and direct threat to the health of the 12-15 million people working in the industry around the world.
The combustion of coal not only contributes to air pollution and the climate crisis, but is also a major source of anthropogenic mercury emissions. The 2018 Global Mercury Assessment found that burning coal and other forms of burning fossil fuels and biomass were responsible for around 24% of global mercury emissions. Although coal contains only small concentrations of mercury, people tend to burn it in large volumes. As the global economy grows, so does the coal that burns for energy production. The good news is that up to 95% of mercury releases from power plants can be reduced by improving coal and plant performance and improving control systems for other pollutants.
For more than a hundred years, mercury has been one of the primary ingredients in dental amalgam, the mixture that dentists use to fill the cavities of their patients’ teeth. And while amalgam probably poses only a minimal threat to the health of those who walk with it in the mouth, the use of mercury in amalgam also contributes to a gradual build-up of the toxic element in our environment.
(This story is part of Sambad Digital’s “Punascha Pruthibi – One Earth. Unite for It” awareness campaign)