Health consequences of mercury into the atmosphere


While there are numerous forms of air pollution, mercury pollution raises great concerns, primarily because of the health dangers it causes. Because of its numerous uses throughout various industries, including manufacturing and the medical fields, the emitting of mercury into the atmosphere continues. Specifically, mercury is emitted into the atmosphere via both natural and artificial processes. However, artificial processes contribute to the greatest percentage of the toxic mercury emitted in the world. Since the health consequences are undeniably substantial, efforts have continued to be made concerning reducing, degrading, and elimination of the chemical from the atmosphere. Such include stopping mercury mining, utilizing filters in coal-fired power plants, and finding alternatives that do not require the use of mercury.

Mercury Pollution, Effects, and Solutions


Air is one of the primary necessities for life. Without air, like in other planets in the solar system, the Earth would not be able to support growth. However, while air is not the only requirement for life, living things, human beings, in particular, undertake numerous activities, some of which affect the quality of the natural environment. Specifically, some of the activities affect the quality of air by introducing pollutants. For example, mercury compounds that contaminate the air in different ways continue to be introduced to the air in different ways. There are numerous sources of mercury compounds that continue to release the pollutant into the environment. Currently, statistics indicate that emissions from coal-fired power stations are the leading source of mercury compounds contamination.

Records indicate that over 72% of all toxic mercury compounds introduced into the air in the United States come from coal-fired power plants (Pavlish et al., 2003). Nonetheless, while there are natural sources of mercury pollutants, including evaporation from soils, volcanoes, and degradation of minerals, about 70% of mercury air pollutants come from human activities (Wang et al., 2004). Mercury is highly useful within a variety of areas. For example, it is utilized in fluorescent light bulbs and batteries. Also, the Chlor-alkali industry that is responsible for the production of chlorine continues to release many tones of mercury to the environment. Besides, in the health industry, mercury has continued to be exceedingly useful. For instance, medical devices such as sphygmomanometers (blood pressure instruments) and thermometers, as well as laboratory chemicals, pharmaceuticals, some vaccine preservations, and dental amalgams, continue to make use of mercury compounds (Rustagi, & Singh, 2010). Consequently, the release of mercury pollutants into the environment from this industry is substantial, especially from hospitals with medical waste incinerators.

Health and Environmental Concerns

Unlike some other elements, mercury has no benefit to the body. Therefore, when one gets exposed to mercury, it would be correct to state that only adverse effects may be witnessed. Furthermore, according to various researches, there are numerous harmful effects that mercury has on health (Rustagi, & Singh, 2010). While it is evident that there are many ways through which mercury air pollution occurs, or through which the pollutant is emitted to the environment, people are exposed to mercury in various ways. First of all, the pollutant comes in various forms, including elemental, inorganic, and organic forms (Renneberg, &Dudas, 2001). For the different forms of existence, people may be exposed by inhalation through the air or by ingestion. The elemental form, in particular, is most abundant in the air, and records show that over 80% of mercury in this form gets absorbed by human beings through inhalation.

Meanwhile, studies have continued to show that mercury pollutants found in inorganic and organic forms are absorbed primarily through ingestion. Regardless, when the pollutant becomes incorporated into the body, they bring about serious health concerns. For instance, when elemental mercury becomes incorporated into the body, it has toxic effects on the lungs, eyes, skin, and gingiva. More so, in the long term, this exposure results in health issues concerning the kidneys and the central nervous system. The other forms of mercury emerge from the elemental form. For example, when elemental mercury is deposited into water, it transforms into methylmercury by bacteria and other microorganisms. This form of pollution continues to create particular concerns for growing children beginning from conception and onwards.

Because of the massive generation of the pollutant in the sea and other water reserves, fish become the primary medium through which people ingest the pollutant. As such, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and young children are advised to limit their consumption of tuna and other fish because of the serious consequences the consumption may bring (Bose-O’Reilly, et al., 2010). Methylmercury can penetrate through the blood-brain barrier, which ultimately implies that it can bring down the bran’s last line of defense. This may cause brain neuron degeneration, especially for fetuses and young children, which consequently impairs the brain’s growth, particularly concerning learning and thinking capabilities.


There are numerous ways through which mercury pollutants are emitted into the atmosphere. As statistics reveal, there are natural ways, of which human beings have no control over, as well as manmade processes that result in the pollution of air by mercury and its compounds. Following this pollution, there are undeniable health dangers that result. Therefore, the need to devise and implement solutions to the undeniable mercury pollution becomes essential. As such, because there are different sources of the pollutant, it becomes necessary that the solutions are addressed from within the various industries responsible for generation and emitting.

First, while it is the responsibility of the pollutant’s generators to take measures for reducing, degrading, and eliminating the chemical from the atmosphere, it is also the responsibility of relevant authorities to enact policies and standards that help to safeguard the people (Rallo et al., 2012). For example, through projects that are enabled by the Environmental Defense Fund, such as the ‘Moms Clean Air Force,’ people get enlightened about the effects of mercury air pollution as well as the measures that can be taken to prevent it. As well, such policies as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards being devised and implemented have resulted in massive improvement concerning the reduction of hazardous air pollution.

Concerning pollutant’s generators, many responsible organizations have continued to show substantial efforts towards the reduction of this particular form of air pollution. For instance, many coal-fired power plants have continued to install filters and scrubbers that help to reduce mercury emissions. These efforts have had a significant impact on the issue. Also, to curb the problem, many mercury mines have stopped their mining activities. For example, in 2003, the only remaining mercury mines in Europe stopped mining (Higueras et al., 2013). More so, many other industries that make use of mercury have continued to find alternative solutions and therefore reducing the amount of mercury in circulation. For instance, studies show that efforts to establish mercury-free hospitals continue to increase. Efforts, whereby the use of such equipment as mercury thermometers have been banned, have been witnessed in EU countries, including Sweden, France, and the Netherlands. And this extends to countries throughout the world, including Brazil Philippines, and India.


Air and the atmosphere remain an integral part of sustaining life. Nonetheless, while it needs to be maintained in good quality, air provides an ample medium through which dangerous materials are transmitted. Those include pollutants such as mercury and its compounds that pose significant health-related dangers to humanity. As such, measures must be taken to reduce and eliminate mercury air pollution. While numerous efforts have continued to be witnessed across the world, it is recommendable that governments and other relevant authorities become relentless concerning implementing the necessary measures. As well, the creation of awareness is needed so that even the general population can undertake in the fight against mercury air pollution.


Bose-O’Reilly, S., McCarty, K. M., Steckling, N., &Lettmeier, B. (2010). Mercury exposure and children’s health. Current problems in pediatric and adolescent health care40(8), 186-215.

Fund, E. D. (1975). Environmental defense fund. United States Agency for International Development, Civ. A (75-0500).

Higueras, P., Esbrí, J. M., Oyarzun, R., Llanos, W., Martínez-Coronado, A., Lillo, J., … & García-Noguero, E. M. (2013). Industrial and natural sources of gaseous elemental mercury in the Almadén district (Spain): an updated report on this issue after the ceasing of mining and metallurgical activities in 2003 and major land reclamation works. Environmental research125, 197-208.

Pavlish, J. H., Sondreal, E. A., Mann, M. D., Olson, E. S., Galbreath, K. C., Laudal, D. L., & Benson, S. A. (2003). Status review of mercury control options for coal-fired power plants. Fuel processing technology82(2-3), 89-165.

Renneberg, A. J., &Dudas, M. J. (2001). Transformations of elemental mercury to inorganic and organic forms in mercury and hydrocarbon co-contaminated soils. Chemosphere45(6-7), 1103-1109.

Rustagi, N., & Singh, R. (2010). Mercury and health care. Indian journal of occupational and environmental medicine14(2), 45.

Rallo, M., Lopez-Anton, M. A., Contreras, M. L., &Maroto-Valer, M. M. (2012). Mercury policy and regulations for coal-fired power plants. Environmental Science and Pollution Research19(4), 1084-1096.

Wang, Q., Kim, D., Dionysiou, D. D., Sorial, G. A., & Timberlake, D. (2004). Sources and remediation for mercury contamination in aquatic systems—a literature review. Environmental pollution131(2), 323-336.

Watras, C. J., & Huckabee, J. W. (Eds.). (1994). Mercury pollution integration and synthesis. CRC Press.

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