Mercury is found in air, water and soil. It occurs naturally and exists in elemental or metallic forms and organic or inorganic mercury compounds. Older thermometers contained elemental or metallic mercury that is liquid at room temperature. The liquid transforms into a colorless, odorless gas when heated.
Humans are most likely to be exposed to mercury by eating fish or shellfish that are contaminated. Exposure to mercury can affect the nervous system and harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, or immune system. While mercury used to be used more commonly in science and medicine, now regulations are increasing by organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
A series of seven mercury podcasts has been produced by the UW Water Resources Institute (UW-WRI). The episodes cover the history of man's interactions and research dealing with mercury, problematic aspects of the mercury cycle, and the water cycle in Wisconsin. With iTunes already installed, simply click here to launch the podcasts. For reading suggestions on mercury, see the library's new recommended reading list.
Image property of UW-WRI