Mercury is a metal that has a lot of bad press these days. Many years ago, people hailed mercury as a crucial element in the periodic table. It’s also got a unique charm about it. For example, did you know mercury is the only metal to remain a liquid at room temperature?
These days, mercury is a big problem for everyone on the planet. That’s because it’s quite toxic and can make people ill. That information wasn’t always known. As a result, humans have used mercury for all kinds of things in the past.
One question that causes much debate is whether mercury is a growing problem or if it’s one we can control. Despite what people may say, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as one would like. Here’s why things could get worse before they get better:
Dentists used mercury a lot in the past
All kinds of dental procedures like fillings used mercury to help repair teeth problems. The good news is that dentists don’t use this element today. But, the bad news is many people may have mercury in their mouths without knowing it!
As you’ve no doubt learned, mercury is toxic and can make us ill. If a filling or other dental procedure fails, it could cause all kinds of problems for us.
Almost all people on the planet will have had some dental work done on their teeth during their lifetime. As you can imagine, this represents a big problem!
We can get toxic mercury poisoning from what we eat
You might not know it, but fish and sea creatures contain a lot of mercury – especially fish like tuna! Scientists worry about mercury poisoning because fish is a food most people eat. If there’s a strong case for being a vegetarian, this is one fact to consider!
Fish actually spread mercury when they reproduce. If you’ve eaten fish in the past, it’s likely you’ve consumed some mercury.
Mercury still gets used when extracting gold
It’s no secret that many of us have a love for gold, one of the most precious and fashionable metals out there! Have you ever thought about how gold gets extracted?
Believe it or not, gold extraction isn’t just about using a pan with a sieve. As you may have guessed, mercury gets used in the gold extraction process in some areas. Mercury can form an alloy with gold – an “amalgam.”
Gold miners sometimes use mercury when searching for the metal in the silt. They can boil the mercury, revealing the pure gold leftover.
The problem there is miners will just dump the unwanted mercury, often into a water course. That’s in addition to the mercury vapours entering the atmosphere.
Is there a way to reverse the increase of mercury in the world?
In a word, yes. Education is perhaps the primary tool we can use to fight this growing problem. For example, educating people about mercury’s toxicity can stop them dumping it. Using other methods to extract gold on a small scale is also another option.