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553px-Pouring liquid mercury bionerd

Mercury, courtesy Bionerd, via Wikipedia

Mercury is a metallic element (atomic number 80, atomic symbol Hg for "hydragyrum" or "water silver" - a Latinized form of the original Greek work for the metal) that is notable for being one of the few chemical elements (and the only common one) that is liquid at normal temperatures and pressures. Mercury is commonly used in electrical switches, fluorescent light bulbs and dental fillings. However, it is being phased out for it's other uses (such as medical thermometers and sphygmomanometers) due to its dangers to human health.

In its liquid form or as an alloy, mercury has little or no deleterious effect on human health. However, mercury vapours and most mercury compounds are very harmful to human health. The initial effects of mercury poisoning were seen in the 19th century in felt hat makers who almost always showed symptoms mimicking mental illness after a long period at work in their profession. The cause was soon traced to the mercury used in treating the felt.

Today, mercury exposure is often from the workplace as it is still released in certain industrial processes, such as smelting. Mercury also accumulates in the environment and large fish (particularly carnivorous fish like swordfish) should be monitored for mercury levels. Accidental exposure can result from products containing mercury, such as old thermometers, old barometers, and fluorescent light bulbs.

Mercury at Wikipedia

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