Mercury: The Mad, Mad Metal-November 2009

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety 

November 2009

IN THIS ISSUE: Mercury: The Mad, Mad Metal

Mercury and its devastating neurological effects have impacted industry for centuries.  Unlike other metals, mercury is a liquid at room temperature and will slowly vaporize if it is not contained.  Organic compounds containing mercury are the most toxic even in very small amounts and can cause neurological damage or even death.  Mercury can also be absorbed through the skin and cause allergic reactions.  Ingestion of inorganic mercury compounds can cause severe renal and gastrointestinal damage.

“Mercury poisoning has impacted workers for more than a hundred years,” explains Gary R. Ticker, CIH, CSP, “In fact, the term ‘mad hatter’ was coined in nineteenth century England because the process of felting hats exposed hatters to mercury vapor.  The neurological damage of mercury left them mentally disturbed or confused, and many died young.” 

Workers today face the same risk because mercury is used widely in many industries.  Occupational exposure to mercury can occur in the mining, production, and exposure of metal as well as refining operations for gold and silver.  It is used in thermometers, manometers, barometers, gauges, valves, amalgams for dentistry, preservatives, heat transfer technology, pigments, catalysts, and lubricating oils.

When mercury exposure exceeds the recommended exposure limit set by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), employers must address the following areas:

  1. Training. Teach employees about mercury’s hazards as well as its safe use including the proper procedures for personal protective equipment.  Also, strongly encourage employees to wash with soap and water as this may limit absorption through the skin. 
  2. Engineering Controls. Ensure that mechanical ventilation and/or process enclosures are operating.
  3. Leak Containment.  Immediately take action to contain leaks, spills, or ventilation failures.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or visit us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health.   OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

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