Mercury does not remain in the body indefinitely. When the virus is no longer exposed, it takes six months to a year for it to depart the circulation. However, since mercury accumulates in the brain and kidneys, even small exposures can have serious effects over time.
The human body removes mercury through the urine and feces. It is also removed with blood cells when they are destroyed by radiation or chemicals. The half-life of mercury is about 15 years. This means that if you were to stop taking all sources of mercury today, your body would still be removing it from its system after only fifteen years. The slow rate of removal is one reason why exposure to mercury should be avoided as much as possible.
The concentration of mercury in the environment is currently below what is considered safe for humans. However, there are still many areas of the world where mining activities can result in increased mercury levels in the soil and water. This can happen when mines dispose of waste underground or into bodies of water without proper treatment. The mercury then becomes available for uptake by plants and animals, which may consume them. Once in the human body, mercury can move from place to place within our organs and tissues until finally being eliminated.
The amount of mercury that enters our body through food is very low.
Metallic mercury can remain in your body for weeks or months after it enters. When metallic mercury enters the brain, it quickly converts to an inorganic form and remains "stuck" in the brain for an extended period of time. Inorganic mercury is excreted from the body in the urine or feces over a period of weeks or months. Organic mercury, which is still present in dental fillings and other inorganic forms of mercury, is removed through regular bowel movements or urine.
The amount of mercury that enters your body with one meal isn't enough to cause any health problems. However, if you eat large amounts of fish every day, the level of mercury in your blood would be high because it takes up space in your stomach like a metal spoon does in a glass of water. This could make it harder for you to digest other foods and could lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea.
People who eat a lot of fish risk being exposed to mercury. Not all fish are equal when it comes to mercury. Fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, grouper, mackerel, and herring have high levels of mercury. Other fish such as trout, salmon, catfish, and whitefish contain less mercury than these first five fish. If you don't want to eat fish because you think it's bad for your health, know that not eating fish is just as dangerous as eating too much of it. Mercury is toxic to humans at any level of exposure.
Mercury's biological half-life in the body is believed to be 30 to 60 days. The half-life of mercury in the brain is unknown, however it is predicted to be as long as 20 years.
Mercury is hazardous, and you should avoid being exposed to it for extended periods of time, yet merely handling it will not kill you. It's like smoking; it's fatal over lengthy periods of time, but you won't die if you stroll into a smokey bar and order a drink.
The skin contact that leads to absorption of mercury occurs through hand-to-mouth activity or via the respiratory system. If you eat contaminated fish, you may experience negative effects after just a few meals. However, eating fish regularly would require extensive consumption of small amounts of fish to be harmful over time.
You are more likely to experience problems with mercury exposure if you work with chemicals that contain it or if you live in a community with environmental contamination. Otherwise known as "industrial toxins", these include lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, and furans. Industrial toxins can find their way into the environment through air pollution or water contamination. They can also enter the body through contact with any of these items that contain them: paint chips, dental fillings, or certain types of furniture.
If you work with chemicals that contain mercury or live in an area with environmental contamination, take precautions to protect yourself from exposure. Use protective equipment such as gloves, goggles, and dust masks when necessary. Stay away from contaminated areas and don't eat any food that has not been thoroughly cleaned.
Mercury lingers in the environment for extended periods of time by cycling back and forth between the air and soil, changing chemical forms in the process. Inorganic elemental mercury has an estimated atmospheric lifespan of up to two years, however organic methylmercury can persist in the soil for decades. The half-life of inorganic mercury is about a hundred years.
When mercury enters the environment, it does so through both natural processes and human activity. Natural processes include volcanic eruptions, which spread mercury over large areas of land; wind, which carries mercury across oceans and continental shelves; and water, which washes mercury into lakes and rivers. Human activity includes mining, where mercury is used as a solvent to extract gold from ore; manufacturing, where coal-fired power plants absorb some of its emissions; and using products containing mercury, such as thermometers and fluorescent lights.
In nature, mercury is mainly found in two forms: inorganic, which accounts for almost all of the mercury on Earth, and organic, which is found only in small amounts. Organic mercury is bound to soil particles or trapped in fish food chains. Inorganic mercury is not bound to any substance and can move through the environment freely.
When humans remove mercury from industrial waste, they usually discard it in landfill sites or incinerators. Both options are dangerous because mercury stays toxic even after it's burned or buried.
Seek medical treatment and follow expert guidance if you acquire mercury on your skin. Eliminate contaminated clothing and rinse the skin for 15 minutes with water to remove as much mercury as possible. Then seek medical advice immediately.
The amount of mercury that can be in contact with your skin is not likely to be harmful. However, if you ingest more than you should or if you are exposed to higher levels over a longer period of time, then the mercury may have more serious effects.
Here are some things to avoid if you are worried about mercury:
Fish is one of the only sources of dietary mercury. If you don't like fish, try to include some other low-mercury foods in your diet such as lean meat, non-meat proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Avoid products that contain large amounts of tuna because it is so high in mercury. Fish oil supplements also contain mercury. So too does dental amalgam (the metal filling used by most people today). If you have any doubts about the safety of a product, check with your doctor before eating anything from an animal source.
If you wear any type of jewelry made of silver or gold, check with an expert before cleaning any type of jewelry in your home machine washing machine.