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Write down your quit plan Learn how to develop a quit plan that will work for you. The bay was rich in fish and shellfish, providing the main livelihood for local residents and fishermen from other areas. For many years, no one realised that the fish were contaminated with mercury, and that it was causing a strange disease in the local community and in other districts. At least 50 people were affected to some extent and more than cases of Minamata disease were certified. Minamata disease peaked in the s, with severe cases suffering brain damage, paralysis, incoherent speech and delirium.
Elemental and methylmercury are toxic to the central and peripheral nervous systems.
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The inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested. Neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure of different mercury compounds.
Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction. Kidney effects have been reported, ranging from increased protein in the urine to kidney failure. There are several ways to prevent adverse health effects, including promoting clean energy, stopping the use of mercury in gold mining, eliminating the mining of mercury and phasing out non-essential mercury-containing products.
Burning coal for power and heat is a major source of mercury. Coal contains mercury and other hazardous air pollutants that are emitted when the coal is burned incoal-fired power plants, industrial boilers and household stoves. Mercury is an element that cannot be destroyed; therefore, mercury already in use can be recycled for other essential uses, with no further need for mercury mining. Mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining is particularly hazardous, and health effects on vulnerable populations are significant.
Mercury and health
Non-mercury non-cyanide gold-extraction techniques need to be promoted and implemented, and where mercury is still used safer work practices need to be employed to prevent exposure. A range of actions are being taken to reduce mercury levels in products, or to phase out mercury-containing products. In health care, mercury-containing thermometers and sphygmomanometers are being replaced by alternative devices.
Dental amalgam is used in almost all countries. A WHO expert consultation concluded that a global near-term ban on amalgam would be problematic for public health and the dental health sector, but a phase down should be pursued by promoting disease prevention and alternatives to amalgam; research and development of cost-effective alternatives; education of dental professionals and the raising of public awareness. Inorganic mercury is added to some skin-lightening products in significant amounts.
Many countries have banned mercury-containing skin-lightening products because they are hazardous to human health. Mercury, such as thiomersal ethylmercury , is used in very small amounts as a preservative in some vaccines and pharmaceuticals. Compared to methylmercury, ethylmercury is very different. Ethylmercury is broken down by the body quickly and does not accumulate.
WHO has closely monitored scientific evidence relating to the use of thiomersal as a vaccine preservative for more than 10 years, and has consistently reached the same conclusion: there is no evidence that the amount of thiomersal used in vaccines poses a health risk. The continued release of mercury into the environment from human activity, the presence of mercury in the food chain, and the demonstrated adverse effects on humans are of such concern that in governments agreed to the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
The Convention obliges government Parties to take a range of actions, including to address mercury emissions to air and to phase-out certain mercury-containing products.
WHO publishes evidence about the health impacts of the different forms of mercury, guidance on identifying populations at risk from mercury exposure, tools to reduce mercury exposure, and guidance on the replacement of mercury-containing thermometers and blood pressure measuring devices in health care. WHO leads projects to promote the sound management and disposal of health-care waste and has facilitated the development of an affordable, validated, non-mercury-containing blood pressure measuring device.
Mercury and health 31 March Key facts Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil. Exposure to mercury — even small amounts — may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life. Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.