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Interesting Facts about Mercury - A Liquid Metal at Room Temperature
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.
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 -
- diffusion pumps
- fluorescent lighting
- mercury vapor lamps
- chemicals such as caustic soda, chlorine
- high grade paints pigments
- neon signs for advertising
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
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 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
- Do not use a broom, mop or a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury spills
- Do not walk in the area where the mercury has dropped
- Take children and pets out of the room and close the door so that the mercury vapor does not spread in the house.
- 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.