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Interesting Facts About Mercury - Properties and Uses

Updated on June 10, 2019
Vellur profile image

A Botany graduate, Nithya Venkat writes about topics that interest her.

Mercury | Source

Mercury is also known as quicksilver. It is a very rare element existing in the earth’s crust. It is represented by the symbol Hg.

Mercury is the only metal that is in a liquid form at standard pressure and temperature.

Mercury and all of its compounds are highly toxic and have to be handled with care.

Mercury has been used by people in ancient civilizations dating back to 2000 BC. Mercury is named after the Roman God Mercury.

The symbol Hg comes from another name for mercury – Hydragyrum. Hydragryrum is a Greek word meaning liquid silver. Mercury is also known as quicksilver.

Tubes of mercury have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to the early 1500 BC. In ancient times Greeks and Romans were not aware of the harmful effects of mercury; hence they used its medical ointments and in beauty products.

Sources of Mercury

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal on earth. Cinnabar is the primary ore from which mercury is extracted. Cinnabar is a combination of mercury and sulfur. This ore is found near hot springs and volcanoes.

Mercury is obtained by heating the cinnabar ore and condensing the vapors of cinnabar. Spain and Italy are two major countries that produce 50% of the world’s supply of mercury.

cinnabar - ore from which mercury is extracted
cinnabar - ore from which mercury is extracted | Source

Properties of Mercury

Mercury has the following properties -

  • it is a heavy silver-white metal
  • remains in liquid form at room temperature
  • it is a poor conductor of heat
  • it conducts a very little amount of electricity
  • mercury does not react with acid
  • it is highly toxic

When mercury enters the body through cracks in the skin or wounds on the body, it can damage the nerves, liver, and kidneys.

Why is mercury not allowed in aircraft?

Mercury is not permitted in aircraft because it can easily corrode aluminum.

Aluminum is used to make many components of the aircraft. When mercury comes in contact with aluminum, it corrodes the aluminum in the aircraft components, and this can result in cracks developing on the body of the aircraft.

Uses of Mercury

Mercury is used extensively in the field of mining. It is used for extraction of metallic silver or gold from their respective ores.

Mercury is also used in the manufacture of the following -

  1. thermometers
  2. barometers
  3. hygrometers
  4. hydrometers
  5. diffusion pumps
  6. batteries
  7. fluorescent lighting
  8. mercury vapor lamps
  9. chemicals such as caustic soda, chlorine
  10. high grade paints pigments
  11. neon signs for advertising
  12. pesticides
  13. batteries
  14. catalysts

How mercury can enter the surrounding air?

Mercury is released into the surrounding air when -

  • coal is burned by power plants
  • hazardous waste materials are burned
  • chlorine is manufactured
  • an item made with mercury is broken
  • mercury is spilled by accident
  • industrial wastes
  • wastes containing mercury not disposed of the right way

Mercury Poisoning

When mercury enters the air, it condenses along with the water and enters into rivers, lakes, and streams or is washed and deposited onto land surfaces.

Eating Fishes With Mercury

Mercury enters the body of fishes present in the water and remains inside. Poisoning due to mercury occurs when humans consume fishes that have mercury in their body system.

When pregnant mothers consume fish contaminated with mercury the development of the brain and nervous system of the unborn child is affected.

In adults, it can lead to the following symptoms - development of a tingling and sharp sensations in the hands, feet and around the mouth, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, lack of coordination of limbs, hearing difficulties, tremors and extreme weakness of muscles.

Breakage of products with mercury

When an item containing mercury is broken, the mercury vaporizes and mixes with the surrounding air. When this air is inhaled it can cause dizziness, nervous weakness, weakness in the muscles, restlessness, insomnia, tremors, nausea and vomiting. The symptoms can be severe if the room is not well ventilated.

Exposure to high levels of mercury can lead to respiratory failure, kidney failure and can lead to death in extreme cases.

Dental Fillings

Dental fillings may have mercury in them. If the tooth is filled with silver amalgam chances are that you may be exposed to mercury poisoning when the dental filling breaks off or chips because silver amalgam is made up of 50% of mercury.

Nowadays, dentists use fillings without mercury.

Why fishes contaminated with mercury are highly poisonous?

Organic mercury compounds mainly methylmercury is present in abundance in the food chain. Industrial wastes dumped into water pollutes the water with mercury.

Aquatic animals and vegetation present in the water bodies convert the mercury into methylmercury that is highly toxic. Mercury enters the body of fishes through water contaminated with methylmercury.

Proteins present in fishes bind tightly with 90 % of methyl mercury. No cooking method is strong enough to remove the methylmercury from the body of fishes.

Mercury in a glance

Mercury is also known as quicksilver represented by the symbol Hg

It is extracted from an ore called cinnabar

It is the only metal that is in a liquid form at room temperature

Mercury is highly toxic and should be handled with care

One of the many uses of mercury is in the extraction of gold and silver

Liquid mercury vaporizes at room temperature; the vapor is colorless and without any odor

Cleaning Small Mercury Spills

Liquid mercury vaporizes at room temperature. Mercury vapor is colorless and does not have any odor.

When liquid mercury is spilled on the floor, it splits into many small balls. These mercury balls may get into cracks and crevices, and the chances are that they may not be visible at all.

Mercury spills must be handled carefully. Even a small amount of mercury can affect children.

Points to remember

  1. Do not use a broom, mop or a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury spills
  2. Do not walk in the area where the mercury has dropped
  3. Take children and pets out of the room and close the door so that the mercury vapor does not spread in the house.
  4. The safest way to clean up small mercury spills at home is by using a Mercury Spill Kit. A Mercury Spill Kit has all the items to clean up a mercury spill safely.

The use of mercury in slowly being phased out in many fields of application due to its highly toxic nature.


© 2014 Nithya Venkat


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    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      Nell Rose thank you, mercury is dangerous and do remove the fillings when you can, take care.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      4 years ago from England

      Really informative and straight to the point, nice one! mercury is dangerous, its pretty scary to think that dentists used it in fillings, I still have some of those fillings scarily enough! never realised that about the fish though, wonderful hub and I learned something new!

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      teaches12345 thank you and yes mercury has many uses even though it is toxic.

      tillsontitan thank you for reading and for the vote up.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      4 years ago from New York

      Certainly an educational hub. We don't hear too much about mercury anymore but certainly should. You've covered this subject well.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      You did an excellent job of pointing out how dangerous mercury is and how to handle it. I did not realize it has so many good uses, in spite of it being toxic. Great writing and so interesting to read.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      Paula Atwell thank you, mercury is fascinating but dangerous to handle with bare hands.

      AudreyHowitt thank you. Mercury can cause serious food poisoning symptoms, it is really worrying to think of all the mercury floating in water and mixed in air.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      4 years ago from California

      Interesting article! I wish we didn't have so much of this substance contaminating our water and fish--

    • Paula Atwell profile image

      Paula Atwell 

      4 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Quite interesting and informative. I remember studying about mercury in high school and being fascinated on how it stayed together when rolling on a solid surface. Someone in my class broke a container and we were warned about the poison and not to touch it. Fascinating substance.

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      Faith Reaper am glad you removed all your mercury amalgam fillings. Thank you for your vote ups, pin and share.

      tobusiness thank you and yes it is scary to think of breaking any item with mercury.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      4 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Interesting hub with lots of useful information. Some of this I already knew, I did a hub on good and bad fish awhile back, but you've done a great job here.

      I remember years ago, when the research showed just how hazardous mercury really was, we had to get rid of all thermometers and sphygmomanometers (blood pressure meter) containing mercury, it scars me when I think of all the breakage I've had to deal with prior to this. Up and sharing.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      4 years ago from southern USA

      Wow, great article, so interesting and useful. I learned a lot here. I am glad I had all of my mercury amalgam fillings removed back when too.

      Up +++ tweeting and pinning

      Blessings always

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      always exploring thank you, yes it is amazing how many minerals are present in the rocks and soils.

      FlourishAnyway thank you and it is a good thing that you removed all the mercury amalgam fillings.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      This was very interesting. It helps to answer the question of why you should not throw batteries away but rather treat them as hazardous waste. Also, as someone with MS who used to have mercury amalgam dental fillings, I had all of them removed years ago and replaced at my own expense with composite nonmetal material. My neurological symptoms improved markedly afterwards. Weird. It could be coincidence, placebo, or a real difference. I don't know. Excellent hub.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I found this subject very interesting and helpful. I love fish, but how do we know if they are mercury free? It's amazing how many minerals can be found in the soil and rocks...I've had my share of breaking thermometers and seeing the little ball of mercury dance around. ( nurse )

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      midget38 yes that is it!

      billybuc thank you.

      Jackie Lynnley thank you, playing with mercury is dangerous.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Wow I sure never knew this. I know I have been around mercury drops like those shown above when I was a child more than once; can't remember why that would have been; maybe a broken thermometer. Thanks for the warning so we can spread the word!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      From teaching science for a number of years, I knew quite a bit of this...but you managed to add some facts I did not know. Very interesting.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      This is why we should not inhale it!!

    • Vellur profile imageAUTHOR

      Nithya Venkat 

      4 years ago from Dubai

      Jodah thank you and yes it is dangerous. Methylmercury in fishes is highly poisonous.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Very interesting hub about Mercury, Vellur. I knew that eating too much deep sea bottom feeding fish containing high levels of mercury was dangerous, but I didn't know it was as toxic and dangerous as it is. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Very interesting hub about Mercury, Vellur. I knew that eating too much deep sea bottom feeding fish containing high levels of mercury was dangerous, but I didn't know it was as toxic and dangerous as it is. Thanks for sharing this.


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