What is closest to the sun, flight of foot, and a deadly neurotoxin? Mercury: the planet; the Roman god; and Hg, the chemical element also called quicksilver. Having little in common beyond name, only the latter has immediate and damaging effect on us.
Although we seldom see mercury, which is like liquid silver at room temperature, it is all around us in air and water, often in our food and daily products. Used in the manufacture of many items including batteries, thermostats and lighting, mercury was also historically used for medicinal purposes. Some may still remember using Mercurochrome as a kid to heal cuts and scratches.
Mercurochrome has long been banned in the U.S. The use of mercury in paints was prohibited in 1990, as well as in herbicides just 15 years ago. The use of mercury in batteries was phased out over a decade ago.
According to the EPA, mercury poisoning can have impacts on “cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills,” and include symptoms such as tremors, dermatitis and muscle weakness. Emotional changes such as mood swings, nervousness and mental disturbances have also been reported, along with irreversible liver and kidney damage. The unborn and children are highly sensitive to mercury toxicity due to their developing brains and nervous systems.
See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.