Introduction to Liquid Mercury

Mercury is an element that is denoted by the symbol Hg.  80m is its atomic number. The chemical element is also referred to as hydrargyrum or quicksilver. It is a heavy metal which is silvery and usually exists in the liquid form at room pressure or temperature. Before its extraction, mercury exists as cinnabar which is the ore.

There are three different forms of mercury:

  1. Element mercury

  2. Organic mercury compound that is also referred to as organomercurials. This is mercury that forms a covalent bond between mercury and carbon. A good example is dimethyl mercury and methyl mercury.

  3. Organic mercury is the third form. This is usually formed when the element mercury is combined with other elements except carbon. A good example is mercury II chloride, mercury II oxide, and mercury II sulfide.

History Of Liquid Mercury 

The planet mercury symbol has for a long time been used so as to represent element mercy. This is a symbol that has been found even in the Egyptian tombs that date from 1500 BC.

In Tibet and China, the use of the element was believed to help in prolonging life. Maintain good health, and also heal fractures. However, recent research has identified that exposure to the vapor causes some very adverse effects on health.

 

Qin Shi Huang Di, who was China’s first emperor is said to have been buried within a tomb that had mercury flowing representing the model of where he ruled. He was said to have been killed by the consumption of a drink of jade and mercury moisture that was prepared by Qin alchemists. This led to brain death, mercury poisoning, and liver failure. The mixture was prepared in the effort of offering him eternal life.

There is also Khumarawayh Ibn Ahmad ibn Tulun who was an Egyptian ruler known for his profligacy and extravagance. He built a basin that was mercury filled. He would lie at the top of the air cushions and he would then be rocked to sleep. .

Large quantities were also discovered in 2014 in a chamber that lies some 60 feet below in 1800 year old pyramid called the temple of the feathered serpent. This is one of the largest Teotihuacan pyramids.

Mercury sulfide was used by the Greeks in ointments. There were also the romans and the Egyptians who used the element in their cosmetics. A mercury pool was found beneath a market in Lamanai. Lamanai was a city during Maya civilization.  In 500 BC, mercury was actually used in the making of amalgams combined with other metals.

Alchemist also believed that, mercury was the very first matter that metals were formed from. They also strongly believed that one could produce different kinds of metals by simply varying the quantity and quality of the sulfur that was found within the mercury. Gold was thought to be the purest form. Mercury was used in attempts of turning some impure metals into gold. Many alchemists aimed at achieving this.

The mines found in Spain, Italy, and Slovenia was once dominated by the production of mercury, especially after the mine was opened in Spain (Almaden) some 2500 years ago. New deposits were found around the end of the 19th century. The former mines that produced great proportions of the supply of mercury have actually been mined out completely. There are areas where there was a shutdown when the price of mercury went down. In the United States, the last mercury mine was closed down in the year 1992. Mercury price has since been quite volatile over the years.

In the 17th and 16th centuries, the Spanish conquered the new world. This made mercury mining by slaves very common. The metal was widely used for the purification of silver deposits within Central America before they were shipped to Spain. Because parents feared mercury poisoning, they would dismember or maim their children on purpose, so as to ensure that they would not work in the mines.

In the past felt hats were manufactured using mercury based compounds in the 19th and 18th century. This is where the mad as a hatter came from. This was in reference to the mercury poisoning, which was quite rampant among the milliners.

In the year 1810, HMS triumph and HMS Phipps salvage elementary mercury from a Spanish vessel that had wrecked. The blades ruptured and the element was spread all over the ships in its vapor and liquid forms. The people aboard had neurologic compromises such as pulmonary complaints, skin problems, tooth loss, excessive salivation, paralysis, and tremors. The surgeon made the conclusion that the above ailments were as a result of the inhalation of mercury and recommended that the lower deck gun ports be opened and no man was allowed to sleep in the Orlop. Anyone with any kind of symptoms was not allowed to sleep in the lower deck. The wind sails were also set so as to channel in some fresh air day and night.

Abraham Lincoln also took a very common medicine during his time that was called blue mass. This was done for many years, including the time of his early presidency. This medicine had very significant amounts of mercury.

Olive Thomas, an actress ingested some mercury capsules that were dissolved in an alcohol solution in Paris back in the year 1920. A lot of controversy still exists as to whether it was meant for suicide or whether the solution was consumed by mistake. Jack Pickford, her husband, had syphilis and it was mercury that was used for treatment.

In the 1920’s, a scientific study of mercury poisoning was conducted by Alfred stock who also became poisoned with his colleagues. This was after he breathed the mercury vapor, which was released by his own equipment in the lab. The equipment included manometers, float valves, and diffusion pumps. All the equipment had mercury. Some of the mercury also spilled on the floors where it remained on the linoleum floor. He ended up publishing papers regarding mercury poisoning and then founded a committee in Berlin so as to study mercury poisoning. This is when the term micromercurialism was introduced.

In the 1950s, industrial discharges in japan led to outbreaks of poisoning. Industries were discharging mercury into the coastal waters and rivers. The most popular instances were Niigata and Minamata where over 600 people lost their lives in Minamata alone.  Over 21,000 people also filed claims with the government where around 3000 were certified that they actually had the disease. There are also some 22 documented cases of pregnant women who ended o consuming fish that was contaminated. Even though they displayed mild or no symptoms at all, they ended up giving birth to infants that had severe developmental disabilities.

In the year 1947, Karen Wettterhan who as a chemistry professor working at the Dartmouth college spilled dimethyl mercury on her glove and she started experiencing mercury poisoning symptoms five months later even after conducting very aggressive chelation. She died few months later, after brain malfunction due to intoxication.

Uses of Liquid Mercurys

Applications

Mercury is used to manufacture industrial chemicals or electric and electrical applications. Some thermometers use mercury, especially the ones that are used to measure very high temperatures.  Most of these applications have been phased out due to the safety regulations that have been put into place.

Medicine

Mercury was used as a purgative. Many compounds with mercury were used as medicines. The compounds include calomel as well as mercuric chloride. There are also compounds that have been used in preparations of vaccines, but most have been removed from the market by the CDC.

Medicine

The element and the compounds associated with it have been used for a long time in medicine. These are not too common today though, as was in the past. The toxic effects of mercury are a bit widely understood today and that’s why there has been a reduction in its use.

Mercury is often used in dental amalgams.  There is also thiomesal which is an organic compound that preserves vaccines even though this too is quickly declining. The thiomersal is metabolized into ethyl mercury. There is speculation that it can cause autism in children, even though there is no evidence to prove this.

There is also merbromin, another mercury compound that is still in use as a topical antiseptic for minor scrapes and cuts.

Mercury is used in some traditional medicines, especially in Chinese medicine. These too can lead to intoxication when they are consumed, heated or in case of an overdose.

Use of mercury in medicine has declined a lot, especially in the countries that have already developed. Use of thermometers made of mercury has also reduced.

Cosmetics

There are skin whitening products that have mercury in them so as to make them more effective.  Mercury chloride is used as an active ingredient. This chemical is absorbed very readily into the bloodstream through the skin. In some parts of the world, use of the element in cosmetics is not legal. There are areas where cosmetics with the element are imported illegally. Many people have developed the symptoms associated with mercury poisoning after using the products. This practice of skin whitening is quite popular amongst the Asian women. There have been cases where products containing more than what was recommended were caught in the market.

Lighting

The fluorescent lamps have mercury that is released once a bulb breaks. The mercury within the bulbs is normally present as vapor, liquid, or both. The liquid, usually evaporates when the temperatures are ambient. When the bulbs break indoors, the vapor can bring about different health concerns.

Assassinations

There are different times in our history where mercury has been used for purposes of assassination many people have made claims that someone has tried to assassinate them in the past for various reasons.

Chemical facts

Number of protons within the nucleus (atomic number): 80

Atomic symbol as seen on the periodic table: Hg

Atomic weight (the average atom mass): 200.59

Density: 13.5336 grams/cubic cm

Room temperature phase: liquid

Melting point: negative 27.8 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 38.83 degrees Celsius

Boiling point: 674.11 F or 356.73 C.

Dangers of mercury

Mercury is highly toxic. In history, mining and refining or mercury was very hazardous. Some mines have been reopened so as to get the required mercury for making CFL bulbs.

The abandoned mines in different parts of the world contain hazardous wastes because of the roasted cinnabar calcines. The water that runs off from such sites is the main source of ecological damage.

There have been talks in Geneva to plan on how mercury may be banned though there are those of the idea that it is safe to drink it technically. This is not something that should be experimented with.

Liquid mercury is very dangerous, especially because it vaporizes very easily and then contaminates the air with mercury atoms that are invisible. The atoms are soluble in fats and oils and they don’t have any scent.

When inhaled, the mercury can be absorbed by the body quite easily and then it moves into the brain, blood and lungs. The poison can lead to paralysis, agitation, and sleep disorders.

The effect of mercury is one of the reasons as to why it is no longer used in thermometers. Exposure can lead to neurological disorders such as erethism Mercurialis. This disorder has got only one single observable symptom. This was the way people changed their handwriting. They would skid off at the line end and failed to write straight.

You need to note that something as small as a broken thermometer can actually cause mercury poisoning and can be very dangerous in a child’s playroom especially if it gets into corners and then ends up vaporizing. Mercury vapor cannot be compared to water which is gone the moment it vaporizes. Mercury vaporization happens at a very slow pace and it can actually take weeks or days. This means that you could end up inhaling it for a very long time period.

Mercury also has a risk on fertility. The compounds and salts are also very dangerous when they make their way into the different water systems via industrial waste. It is possible the mercury can accumulate in fish and algae.  Regardless of the compound introduced into the water, it always comes back in seafood. When you consume seafood that has a high concentration of mercury, you may have effects on fertility and there is also a threat to one’s nervous system.

Though the element is considered to be poisonous, in the late 19th century, it was given to patients in very significant amounts so as to treat intestinal obstructions. This is because mercury has a laxative effect and its density actually cleans out intestines quite well. ‘

The effects are reversed once a person inhales the vapor because it is inhaled in the form of atoms that are readily absorbed into the blood stream. If mercury is drunk, then most of it gets ejected from the body after it has performed the functions that it was meant for. However, you should not try the ingestion. It is important to note that most of those patients did not survive. There are still chances of inhaling some of the elements unintentionally.