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Harmful effects of mercury compounds. Manufacture of paints, various household items, and pesticides uses mercury; the finished product and the waste products released into air and water may contain mercury. The aquatic food chain can concentrate organic mercury compounds in fish and seafood, which, if eaten by humans, can affect the central nervous system, impairing muscle, vision, and cerebral function, leading to paralysis and sometimes death (seeMinamata disease). Acute mercury poisoning causes severe digestive-tract inflammation. Mercury accumulates in the kidneys, causing uremia and death. Chronic poisoning, from occupational inhalation or skin absorption, causes metallic taste, oral inflammation, blue gum line, extremity pain and tremor, weight loss, and mental changes (depression and withdrawal). Drugs containing mercury can cause sensitivity reactions, sometimes fatal. In young children, acrodynia (pink disease) is probably caused by an organic mercury compound in house paints.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on mercury poisoning, visit Britannica.com.
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