Mercury exists in several forms. Exposure is most likely to occur during mining, production, and transportation of mercury, as well as mining and refining of gold and silver ores. Mercury is commonly found in thermometers, manometers, barometers, gauges, valves, switches, batteries, and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. It is also used in amalgams for dentistry, preservatives, heat transfer technology, pigments, catalysts, and lubricating oils.
Metallic mercury is a silver-gray liquid. When exposed to the air or if spilled, mercury metal vaporizes into the air where it can be breathed into the lungs and absorbed by the body. If spilled mercury is not cleaned up completely, it easily gets spread around and can accumulate in the smallest spaces like cracks between floorboards and under fingernails.
Mercury can be spread around work, car, and home from shoes, clothing, hair, and other objects contaminated with mercury. If a worker is contaminated with mercury, it is important to promptly clean and decontaminate the worker before the employee leaves the work area. Simple hygiene practices, such as washing hands before eating and drinking or smoking, should always be followed even in the absence of obvious contamination.
Symptoms of metallic mercury poisoning can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increased blood pressure and heart rate, chest tightness and decrease performance of the lungs, stomatitis (inflammation of the oral mucus membranes), drooling, increased white blood cell counts, skin rashes (especially for those allergic to mercury), mood changes, inability to concentrate, memory loss, a fine shaking or tingling, loss of feeling (in the hand, tongue, or eyelid), discoloration of the cornea and lens of the eye, disturbances of vision, and kidney disease.