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Mercury (Vapor) (as Hg)

General Description

Synonyms: Quicksilver; Metallic mercury

OSHA IMIS code: 1631 (IMIS History: Mercury, Inorganic [as Hg] prior to 9/1/89)

CAS number: 7439-97-6

Exposure Limits and Health Effects (Updated September 6, 2012)

Standard Set By Exposure Limit Health Effect Codes -- Health Effects and Target Organs
OSHA PEL - General Industry
See 29 CFR 1910.1000 Table Z-1
1 mg/10m3 (0.1 mg/m3) TWA
HE3 -- gingivitis, stomatitis
HE3 -- kidney effects - proteinuria, nephritic syndrome
HE7 -- erethism
HE11 -- mercurial pneumonitis
HE14 -- dermatitis
OSHA PEL - Construction Industry
See 29 CFR 1926.55 Appendix A
0.1 mg/m3 Skin
HE3 -- gingivitis, stomatitis
HE3 -- kidney effects - proteinuria, nephritic syndrome
HE7 -- erethism
HE11 -- mercurial pneumonitis
HE14 -- dermatitis
OSHA PEL - Shipyard Employment
See 29 CFR 1915.1000 Table Z - Shipyards
0.1 mg/m3 Skin
HE3 -- gingivitis, stomatitis
HE3 -- kidney effects - proteinuria, nephritic syndrome
HE7 -- erethism
HE11 -- mercurial pneumonitis
HE14 -- dermatitis
NIOSH REL 0.05 mg/m3 TWA
HE3 -- gingivitis, stomatitis accompanied by excess salivation or a metallic taste
HE3 -- kidney damage (nephritic edema, nephritic syndrome, renal failure)
HE7 -- erethism and micromercurialism
HE10 -- respiratory effects - pneumonitis, bronchitis, chest pains, dyspnea, coughing
HE14 -- dermatitis, grayish-brown or yellow haze on hte lens of the eye
ACGIH TLV® 0.01 mg/m3 TWA (Mercury, alkyl compounds, as Hg (1992))
0.03 mg/m3 STEL

0.1 mg/m3 TWA (Mercury, all forms except alkyl, as Hg (1991): aryl compounds)

0.025 mg/m3 TWA (Elemental and inorganic forms)
HE3 -- gingivitis, stomatitis, ocular and vision changes, hearing loss
HE3 -- kidney effects
HE5 -- teratogenic effects
HE7 -- central nervous system changes resulting in tremors, emotional instability and irritability, peripheral neropathy
CAL/OSHA PELs 0.025 mg/m3 TWA
0.1 mg/m3 Ceiling
HE5 -- reproductive effects

Erethism is a central nervous system disorder characterized by irritability, weakness, sensitivity to stimulation, shyness, depression, insomnia, and eventually memory loss and tremors.

Micromercurialism is a form of mercury poisoning caused by long-term exposure to low doses of mercury, resulting in erethism or a subclinical form of erethism.

Carcinogenic classification:

EPA Inhalation Reference Concentration (RfC): 3x10-4mg/m3

ATSDR Inhalation Minimal Risk Levels (MRLs): 0.0002 mg/m3 (chronic)

NIOSH IDLH concentration: 10 mg Hg/m3

Notes on other potential health effects and hazards:

  1. Exposure to mercury vapor may be a cause of Kawasaki disease (WHO/IPCS 1991).
  2. Several accounts of death have been reported following acute mercury vapor exposure, and they have all been attributed to respiratory failure (ATSDR 1999).
  3. Exposure to metallic mercury can result in decreased central auditory processing (Dutra et al. 2010).
  4. Insulin resistance increases with blood mercury level, and individuals with higher blood mercury levels are at an increased risk for insulin resistance (Chang et al. 2011).
  5. Color vision may be impaired following long-term exposure to mercury vapor (Feitosa-Santana et al. 2010).
  6. Mercury alters the immune system and may play a role in autoimmune diseases (Gardner et al. 2010).
  7. Exposure to mercury vapor has been shown to have a negative impact on the thymus gland, resulting in a significant reduction in thymulin hormone, possibly mediated through the nitric oxide pathway (Farahat et al. 2009).
  8. The EPA reference concentration is based on hand tremor, increases in memory disturbance; slight subjective and objective evidence of autonomic dysfunction observed in workers at 0.025 mg/m3 (EPA 1995).

Partial reference list:

  • ACGIH: Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and Biological Exposure Indices (BEIs) - Mercury, all forms except alkyl. 2016.
  • ANSI: American National Standard Acceptable Concentrations of Inorganic Mercury and Non-Alkyl Organo Compounds. 1972.
  • ATSDR: Toxicological Profile for Mercury. 1999.
  • Chang, J.W., Chen, H.L., Su, H.J., Liao, P.C., Guo, H.R., Lee, C.C.: Simultaneous exposure of non-diabetics to high levels of dioxins and mercury increases their risk of insulin resistance. J Hazard Mat. 185(2-3):749-55, January 30, 2011.
  • Dutra, M.D., Monteiro, M.C., Camara, Vde.M.: Evaluation of central auditory processing in adolescents exposed to metallic mercury. Pro Fono. 22(3):339-44, July-September 2010.
  • EPA IRIS: Mercury, 1995.
  • Farahat, S.A., Rashed, L.A., Zawilla, N.H., Farouk, S.M.: Effect of occupational exposure to elemental mercury in the amalgam on thymulin hormone production among dental staff. Toxicol Ind Health. 25(3):159-67, April 2009.
  • Feitosa-Santana, C., Bimler D.L., Paramei, G.V., Oiwa, N.N., Barboni, M.T., Costa, M.F., Silveira, L.C., Ventura, D.F.: Color-space distortions following long-term occupational exposure to mercury vapor. Opthalmic Physiol Opt. 30(5):724-30, September 2010.
  • Gardner, R.M., Nyland J.F., Silva, I.A., de Souza, J.M., Silbergeld, E.K.: Mercury exposure, serum antinuclear/antinucleolar antibodies and serum cytokine levels in mining populations in Amazonian Brazil: A cross-sectional study. Environ Res. 110(4): 345-354, May 2010.
  • NIOSH/IPCS: International Chemical Safety Cards - Mercury. April 22, 2004.
  • NIOSH: Criteria for a Recommended Standard - Occupational Exposure to Inorganic Mercury. 1973.
  • NIOSH: Occupational Health Guideline for Inorganic Mercury. 1978.
  • WHO/IPCS: Environmental Health Criteria 118 - Inorganic Mercury. pp. 13-21, 68-83, 1991. Fawer, R.F., U. DeRibaupierre, M.P. Guillemin, M. Berode and M. Lobe. 1983. Measurement of hand tremor induced by industrial exposure to metallic mercury. J. Ind. Med. 40: 204-208.
  • Piikivi, L. and U. Tolonen. 1989. EEG findings in chlor-alkali workers subjected to low long term exposure to mercury vapor. Br. J. Ind. Med. 46: 370-375.
  • Piikivi, L. and H. Hanninen. 1989. Subjective symptoms and psychological performance of chlorine-alkali workers. Scand. J. Work Environ. Health. 15: 69-74.
  • Piikivi, L. 1989. Cardiovascular reflexes and low long-term exposure to mercury vapor. Int. Arch. Occup. Environ. Health. 61: 391-395.
  • Ngim, C.H., S.C. Foo, K.W. Boey and J. Jeyaratnam. 1992. Chronic neurobehavioral effects of elemental mercury in dentists. Br. J. Ind. Med. 49: 782-790.
  • Liang, Y-X., R-K. Sun, Y. Sun, Z-Q. Chen and L-H. Li. 1993. Psychological effects of low exposure to mercury vapor: Application of a computer-administered neurobehavioral evaluation system. Environ. Res. 60: 320-327.

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