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Mercury is the only common metal which is liquid at ordinary temperatures. Mercury is sometimes called quicksilver. It is a heavy, silvery-white liquid metal. It is a rather poor conductor of heat if compared with other metals but it is a fair conductor of electricity. It alloys easily with many metals, such as gold, silver, and tin. These alloys are called amalgams. Buy  Mercury online without license

The most important mercury salts are mercuric chloride HgCl2 (corrosive sublimate – a violent poison), mercuric chloride Hg2Cl2 (calomel, still used in medicine occasionally), mercury fulminate (Hg(ONC)2, a detonator used in explosives) and mercuric sulphide (HgS, vermillion, a high-grade paint pigment).


Mercury metal has many uses. Because of its high density it is used in barometers and manometers. It is extensively used in thermometers, thanks to its high rate of thermal expansion that is fairly constant over a wide temperature range. Its Its ease in amalgamating with gold is used in the recovery of gold from its ores.

Industry uses mercury metal as a liquid electrode in the manufacture of chlorine and sodium hydroxide by electrolysis of brine. Mercury is still used in some electrical gear, such as switches and rectifiers, which need to be reliable, and for industrial catalysis. Much less mercury is now used in consumer batteries and fluorescent lighting, but it has not been entirely eliminated.

Mercury compounds have many uses. Calomel (mercurous chloride, Hg2Cl2) is used as a standard in electrochemical measurements and in medicine as a purgative. Mercuric chloride (corrosive sublimate, HgCl2) is used as an insecticide, in rat poison, and as a disinfectant. Mercuric oxide is used in skin ointments. Mercuric sulphate is used as a catalyst in organic chemistry. Vermilion, a red pigment, is mercuric sulphide; another crystalline form of the sulphide (also used as a pigment) is black. Mercury fulminate, Hg(CNO)2, is used as a detonator.  Buy  Mercury online without license

Mercury in the environment

Mercury occurs uncombined in nature to a limited extent. It rarely occurs free in nature and is found mainly in cinnabar ore (HgS) in Spain, Russia, Italy, China and Slovenia. World production of mercury is around 8.000 tonnes per year. Mineable reserves are around 600.000 tonnes.

Mercury is a compound that can be found naturally in the environment. It can be found in metal form, as mercury salts or as organic mercury compounds.

Mercury enters the environment as a result of normal breakdown of minerals in rocks and soil through exposure to wind and water. Release of mercury from natural sources has remained fairly the same over the years. Still mercury concentrations in the environment are increasing; this is ascribed to human activity.

Most of the mercury released from human activities is released into air, through fossil fuel combustion, mining, smelting and solid waste combustion. Some forms of human activity release mercury directly into soil or water, for instance the application of agricultural fertilizers and industrial wastewater disposal. All mercury that is released in the environment will eventually end up in soils or surface waters.

Mercury is not naturally found in foodstuffs, but it may turn up in food as it can be spread within food chains by smaller organisms that are consumed by humans, for instance through fish. Mercury concentrations in fish usually greatly exceed the concentrations in the water they live in. Cattle breeding products can also contain eminent quantities of mercury. Mercury is not commonly found in plant products, but it can enter human bodies through vegetables and other crops, when sprays that contain mercury are applied in agriculture.

Health effects of mercury


Metallic mercury is used in a variety of household products, such as barometers, thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs. The mercury in these devices is trapped and usually does not cause any health problems. However, when a thermometer will break a significantly high exposure to mercury through breathing will occur for a short period of time while it vaporizes. This can cause harmful effects, such as nerve, brain and kidney damage, lung irritation, eye irritation, skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhoea.


Mercury has a number of effects on humans, that can all of them be simplified into the following main effects:

– Disruption of the nervous system

– Damage to brain functions

– DNA damage and chromosomal damage

– Allergic reactions, resulting in skin rashes, tiredness and headaches

– Negative reproductive effects, such as sperm damage, birth defects and miscarriages


Damaged brain functions can cause degradation of learning abilities, personality changes, tremors, vision changes, deafness, muscle incoordination and memory loss. Chromosomal damage is known to cause mongolism.

Environmental effects of mercury


Mercury from soils can accumulate in mushrooms.

Acidic surface waters can contain significant amounts of mercury. When the pH values are between five and seven, the mercury concentrations in the water will increase due to mobilisation of mercury in the ground.

Once mercury has reached surface waters or soils microrganisms can convert it to methyl mercury, a substance that can be absorbed quickly by most organisms and is known to cause nerve damage. Fish are organisms that absorb great amounts of methyl mercury from surface waters every day. As a consequence, methyl mercury can accumulate in fish and in the food chains that they are part of.

The effects that mercury has on animals are kidneys damage, stomach disruption, damage to intestines, reproductive failure and DNA alteration.


Metals in aquatic freshwater

The way freshwater ecosystems deal with an excess of metals


Types of freshwater pollution

Toxicity response

Acids & alkalis






Organic pollution



Three countries—the United States, Germany, and Russia—with only 8% of the world’s population consume about 75% of the world’s most widely used metals. The United States, with 4.5% of the world’s population, uses about 20% of the worlds metal population and 25% of the fossil fuels produced each year.


How metals get into freshwater

Metals are introduced in aquatic systems as a result of the weathering of soils and rocks, from volcanic eruptions, and from a variety of human activities involving the mining, processing, or use of metals and/or substances that contain metal pollutants. The most common heavy metal pollutants are arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel, lead and mercury. There are different types of sources of pollutants: point sources (localized pollution), where pollutants come from single, identifiable sources. The second type of pollutant sources are nonpoint sources, where pollutants come from dispersed (and often difficult to identify) sources. There are only a few examples of localized metal pollution, like the natural weathering of ore bodies and the little metal particles coming from coal-burning power plants via smokestacks in air, water and soils around the factory.

The most common metal pollution in freshwater comes from mining companies. They usually use an acid mine drainage system to release heavy metals from ores, because metals are very soluble in an acid solution. After the drainage process, they disperse the acid solution in the groundwater, containing high levels of metals. See also acids & alkalis.



The term ‘heavy metal’ is somewhat imprecise, but includes most metals with an atomic number greater than 20, and excludes alkali metals, alkaline earths, lanthanides and actinides.

What happens when an excess of metals enters freshwater ecosystems?

When the pH in water falls, metal solubility increases and the metal particles become more mobile. That is why metals are more toxic in soft waters. Metals can become ‘locked up’ in bottom sediments, where they remain for many years. Streams coming from draining mining areas are often very acidic and contain high concentrations of dissolved metals with little aquatic life. Both localized and dispersed metal pollution cause environmental damage because metals are non-biodegradable. Unlike some organic pesticides, metals cannot be broken down into less harmful components in the environment.

Campbell and Stokes (1985) described two contrasting responses of an organism to a metal toxicity with declining pH:

– If there is little change in speciation and the metal binding is weak at the biological surface, a decrease in pH will decrease owning to competition for binding sites from hydrogen ions.

– Where there is a marked effect on speciation and strong binding of the metal at the biological surface, the dominant effect of a decrease in pH will be to increase the metal availability.

Generally the ionic form of a metal is more toxic, because it can form toxic compounds with other ions. Electron transfer reactions that are connected with oxygen can lead to the production of toxic oxyradicals, a toxicity mechanism now known to be of considerable importance in both animals and plants. Some oxyradicals, such as superoxide anion (O2-) and the hydroxyl radical (OH-), can cause serious cellular damage.


Some inorganic pollutants are assimilated by organisms to a greater extent than others. This is reflected in the Bioconcentration Factor (BCF), which can be expressed as follows:

BCF = concentration of the chemical in the organism / concentration of the chemical in the ambient environment.


The ambient environment for aquatic organisms is usually the water or sediments. With inorganic chemicals, the extent of long-term bioaccumulation depends on the rate of excretion. Toxic chemicals can be stored into tissues of species, especially fat tissues. Bioaccumulation of cadmium in animals is high compared to most of the other metals, as it is assimilated rapidly and excreted slowly. Also the sensitivity of individuals of a particular species to a pollutant may be influenced by factors such as sex, age, or size. In general the concentrations of metals in invertebrates is inversely related to their body mass. In fish, the embryonic and larval stages are usually the most sensitive to pollutants.

Benthic organisms are likely to be the most directly affected by metal concentrations in the sediments, because the benthos is the ultimate repository of the particulate materials that are washed into aquatic systems.


Metal tolerance

Some metals, such as manganese, iron, copper, and zinc are essential micronutrients. They are essential to life in the right concentrations, but in excess, these chemicals can be poisonous. At the same time, chronic low exposures to heavy metals can have serious health effects in the long run.

Tolerance to metals has also been recorded in invertebrates and in fish. After exposure for 24 hours to a copper concentration of 0.55 mg/l, rainbow trout showed a 55 per cent inhibition of sodium uptake and a 4 per cent reduction in affinity for sodium, which resulted in an overall decrease in total sodium concentration of sulphydryl-rich protein (Lauren and McDonald 1987a,b). The protein was considered to be a metallothionein. These low molecular weight proteins contain many sulphur-rich amino acids which bind and detoxify some metals. The pretreatment of an organism with low doses of a metal may stimulate metallothionein synthesis and provide tolerance during a subsequent exposure (Pascoe and Beattie, 1979).


Many rivers are polluted with heavy metals from old mine workings and some species of algae become very tolerant to polluted conditions. A survey of 47 sites with different concentration of zinc found the filamentous green alga ‘Hormidium rivulare’ to be abundant everywhere, tolerating zinc concentrations as high as 30.2 mg Zn/l. Buy  Mercury online without license


Additional information


500 g pure Mercury, 1 kg purr Mercury