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Harmful Effects of Mercury on the Environment

3 Harmful Effects of Mercury on the Environment

Mercury occurs naturally through weathering of rocks and volcanoes. But most of the mercury that is present in lakes and other water bodies comes from human activities such as coal-burning power plants.

Once this element gets on the earth with dust particles or rain, bacteria transform it into methylmercury. Before this conversion, mercury could not be an issue to the environment. But when it is in the methylmercury form, it can affect animals, human beings, and aquatic life. 

This article contains essential information about the harmful effects of mercury on the environment. You will learn how mercury becomes a problem once it gets in the air, soil, and water bodies.

Here are 3 Harmful Effects of Mercury on the Environment

1. Mercury can affect wildlife

The emission of mercury in the water bodies and air causes pollution.

When mercury is exposed into the atmosphere, it travels many miles and then settles on the land where it is washed away by rain or storm to the ocean or large water bodies. In the water, mercury converts quickly into methylmercury, which is the most toxic form. 

Fish will then consume the contaminated food and water through their gills. And if you eat fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury, you are likely to be exposed to mercury. Also, this metal can get into your body through inhalation of mercury element levels.

Mercury in the body is toxic and can cause issues with the central and nervous systems. Also, you can encounter problems with the kidney, lungs, immune system, and digestive system after ingestion, inhalation, or dermal exposure of the mercury compounds. 

Besides, mercury can affect your pets. For instance, many types of fish used in canned dog food contain mercury. When you feed the dog with contaminated food, mercury is likely to build up over time because it does not get expelled quickly. Your pets can experience issues such as:

  • Damage to the kidney
  • Blindness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nervousness

Besides, animals and human beings can get exposed to mercury by getting into contact with contaminated soil or breathing toxic fumes from burning trash or fuel. 


2. Mercury can affect the food chain

The food chain is an essential part of the ecosystem. It shows the relationship between food sources and different types of animals. This chain starts with the plants since they can make their own food through photosynthesis. 

When methylmercury gets into the phytoplankton, the whole food chain gets affected. This is because the marine algae are consumed by tiny animals such as zooplankton, which are then eaten by small fish.

Big fish then consume the small fish, and the more the large fish lives, the more they consume a lot of methylmercury. Later, human beings who are higher in the food chain consume contaminated fish, which can cause health issues.

This is why it is advisable to avoid too much canned tuna fish.

Tuna fish

3. Mercury is toxic to the soil

Mercury pollution in the environment can be a problem to the soil and vegetation. When mercury lands on the ground, bacteria in the soil convert it into a toxic form called methylmercury.

In this state, mercury can stay in the soil for many years. It relocates from place to place through air and water and eventually settles under the ground and sediments. 

The worst part about mercury in the soil is how it gets into the vegetation. Plants can uptake high levels of mercury from the soil via the roots, which can cause retarded growth.

Besides, mercury in gaseous and particulate forms gets into the plants through the leaves. In this case, it is good to perform activities that will not lead to mercury emission in the air, water, or soil. For instance, you can consider using clean energy sources that do not burn fuel or coal.

FAQs on Harmful Effects of Mercury on the Environment

What is the most toxic form of mercury?

Mercury occurs in three forms. They include:

  • Elemental mercury
  • Inorganic salts
  • Organic compounds
  • The most toxic form of mercury is organic compounds such as methylmercury. Methylmercury is the leading cause of mercury poisoning. It occurs when you consume contaminated seafood like fish.

    Mercury occurs naturally, but the most significant amount of this element comes from industrialization. When the mercury metal is released into the environment, it can make its way into the soil and water and eventually gets into marine animals such as fish.

    When the contaminated fish gets into your body, it can lead to long-term or permanent neurological changes. A good way to prevent toxicity is by minimizing your exposure to mercury. For instance, you can consider eating fish lower in the food chain.  

    How can you reduce your mercury exposure?

    The primary mercury exposure to humans is methylmercury, which is found at high levels in large fish species. In this case, it is good to learn about the types of fish that are likely to have high levels of mercury.

    First, it is good to know that all fish contain methylmercury. But minimizing mercury exposure is not all about avoiding fish. The good thing to do is to avoid fish in the higher food chain.

    Larger fish eats small fish, which contain traces of methylmercury. Thus, the larger fish will have a high concentration of methylmercury. That’s why it is advisable to go for the fish lower in the food chain.

    Also, you can reduce your mercury exposure through:

  • Reducing the use of mercury-containing products

  • Proper disposal of mercury-containing products
  • Can you remove mercury from the body?

    Mercury can accumulate in the brain or kidney, which can be a threat to your body. But the good thing is that you can do a mercury detox through medical treatment or home remedies.

    Here are home remedies for removing mercury from your body

  • Drinking a lot of water
  • Eating more fiber
  • Consume enough vitamins and minerals
  • However, if you have high levels of mercury in your body, a mercury detox may not work. In this case, it is good to avoid sources of mercury.

    When you minimize your exposure, the mercury will decrease in your body.

    As you are aware, there are many harmful effects of mercury on the environment.

    You can get exposed to this element by breathing air containing mercury vapor, skin contact with mercury substances, and eating fish containing methylmercury.

    Because of this, it is good to minimize your exposure to mercury and implement techniques that can help to remove mercury from your body.

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