Occupational and environmental toxicology of mercury and its compounds.

Satoh H.

Tohoku University School of Medicine, Sendai, Japan.

Mercury exists in various chemical forms. The important forms from a toxicological viewpoint are the metallic form, also called the elemental form, the divalent inorganic forms and methylmercury compounds. Elemental (Hg0) mercury has a high vapor pressure and the vapor causes a number of cases of poisoning via inhalation. Classical mercury poisoning is characterized by a triad of signs, namely tremors, erethism and gingivitis. Mercurial erethism, which is characterized by behavioral and personality changes such as extreme shyness, excitability, loss of memory, and insomnia are also observed. Recently, the effects of mercury exposure at levels around 0.05 mg/m3 or lower have been of concern and may include minor renal tubular damage, increased complaints of tiredness, memory disturbance and other symptoms, subclinical finger tremor, abnormal EEG by computerized analysis and impaired performance in neurobehavioral or neuropsychological tests. Abnormal gait, dysarthria, ataxia, deafness and constriction of the visual field are typical of the symptoms of methylmercury poisoning observed in Minamata and Iraqi outbreaks, as well as in occupational methylmercury poisoning cases. Furthermore, an infant born to a mother with excessive methylmercury consumption showed various neurological disturbances and delayed development. Since several populations are believed to be still exposed to methylmercury through the consumption of fish and sea mammals, neurobehavioral deviations in children of these populations have recently been investigated.