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The Florida Department of Health works to protect, promote & improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county, & community efforts.

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Mercury Poisoning

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Mercury Poisoning

Mercury poisoning is the condition caused by exposure to mercury in a high enough dose to produce health effects. There are three forms of mercury (elemental, organic & inorganic) with distinct characteristics and health effects on toxic exposures.

Sources: Exposure to mercury can occur by any method. Dental amalgam fillings and eating fish that have been exposed to mercury are the main cause of mercury poisoning. Mercury exposure can occur at home or even in a hospital setting through broken thermometers and blood pressure monitors. These conditions are hazardous even without touching the mercury because it produces mercury vapors. Some folk medicines and cosmetics contain mercury. It is also used in the paint industry, neon signs, outdoor lighting, cameras, electrical switches, and some batteries.

Health Effects: The signs and symptoms of acute exposure to mercury may vary depending on the form of mercury (elemental or inorganic). For elemental mercury, acute toxicity might result in fever, fatigue, and clinical signs of pneumonitis. For inorganic mercury, symptoms might include profuse vomiting and diarrhea that is often bloody, followed by hypovolemic shock, oliguric (decreased urine production) renal failure, and possibly death. Delayed toxicity symptoms (> 1 month) are typical of organic mercury poisoning and usually involve the central nervous system. These symptoms might include paresthesias, headaches, ataxia, dysarthria (motor speech disorder), visual field constriction, blindness, and hearing impairment.

Laboratory Tests: Blood, urine and hair can be tested for mercury.

For more information visit the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) websites for Mercury ATSDR-Mercury and the Toxic Substances Portal for Frequently Asked Questions ATSDR-Tox FAQs.

Reporting guidelines for CHDs

Mercury Exposure from Skin-Lightening Products - Fact Sheet for Healthcare Providers (31KB pdf)
Mercury poisoning has been identified with the use of some internationally obtained skin-lightening products. Florida DOH has developed this fact sheet to aid healthcare providers.

Mercury Spills Fact Sheet (83KB pdf)
How to prevent and avoid exposure from mercury spills.