Mercury poisoning is a disease caused by exposure to mercury or its toxic compounds. Organic compounds of mercury (those found in fish) are extremely toxic.
Mercury is released into the air primarily from industrial sources, it falls to the ground in rain or snow and is deposited into water bodies. It is then converted into another highly toxic form of mercury (called methylmercury) by bacteria. Mercury levels are almost always low in water bodies, but it bioaccumulates up the food chain. For this reason, top-level predators like tuna, swordfish and shark often have the highest mercury levels.
Mercury poisoning can cause severe neurological and kidney damage. Acute exposure can affect the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Organic mercury can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause irreversible nervous system and brain damage. Developing fetuses, infants and young children are at the highest risk from mercury exposure, since their brains and nervous systems are still forming. Fetuses can absorb mercury directly across the placenta, and nursing infants can get it from their mother's breast milk. Children exposed to mercury before birth may exhibit problems with mental development and coordination.
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